12 Steps to Build a Better Leader

To build a better leader you need a better leadership development program. There are many good reasons for an organization to create a leadership development program: building bench strength, attracting and retaining talent, and establishing a common leadership language to name a few, but the single best reason is to solve a current business challenge.

The best leadership development programs provide an immediate ROI to the organization if done well.

Build A Better Leader

(1.) Identify the Business Objective

First, identity the most pernicious challenges currently faced by your organization. What keeps the CEO up at night? What is driving any outside consulting expenditures? Have the outside consultants resolved the issue? It’s exactly these kinds of issues that are ripe for a leadership development program. Start to think about your leadership development program as being one of the primary drivers of change in your organization.

(2.) Define the Program’s Objectives and Performance Metrics

Once you’ve identified the most pressing organizational challenges, you now have the primary driver of the leadership development program. The program’s objectives and performance metrics will naturally flow from the identified business objectives.

(3.) Budget

There are two things I’ve learned about budgeting leadership development programs: 1. It’s going to be the most expensive program you run per person, but it should provide the greatest ROI. 2. You must commit the budget for a minimum of three years. It will take that long to effectively measure the ROI. The 100, 1,000, 10,000 rule. $100 per person manager level, $1,000 per person Director level, $10,000 per person at VP and above level for leadership development programs

(4.) Advisory Board

Next you’ll need an advisory board made up of senior leaders throughout the organization. Sales and Finance must be represented. The advisory board acts as a political buffer in the organization by taking on the responsibility of the selection process.

The program will gain prestige in the organization, especially if senior leadership is behind it, so the open slots will be highly sought after and the program runs the risk of becoming a political football.

The selection process can’t though be allowed to become a game of political favors, it has to be merit based. It’s also wise to have at least one member who’s outside the organization, maybe a board member, who sits on the advisory board. In addition, the advisory board will be responsible for approving the objectives, content, and delivery methodology of the program and any future changes to the program.

(5.) Program Development

This is where a lot of leadership development programs get off track. There may be passion and drive in creating a program, but when it comes to the nitty gritty work of designing and developing it, leaders often lose interest. The devil’s in the details. You can see from a recent post on leadership content that there is a ton of great content out there. No one program can cover it all.

— 77 Great Books On Leadership:https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140904171737-1191055-77-books-that-will-make-you-a-better-leader?trk=mp-reader-card

Selecting the right content is important. It’s not just about selecting content that works and provides value; it’s also selecting content that matches the mindset of senior leadership and fits the overall organizational culture. I learned early on that Bossidy’s Execution works well in some organizations and not so well in others.

Many organizations give up the process altogether and hire outside consultants or business schools to deliver the program. This is a mistake for three reasons: 1. With the program occurring “off-site” you have lower retention rates than programs developed in-house. 2. Outside consultants rarely understand the finer nuances of your culture in order to develop a program that really zips and provides an ROI. 3. You miss an opportunity at branding and deepening the culture of your organization by not delivering it in-house. There are benefits to outside support; the most obvious being that you get fresh ideas, so that’s why I recommend a mix.

The best leadership development programs have a healthy mix of content developed internally, along with outside expertise. Support structures need to be in place every step of the way to guide candidates through the program and help them make the most of the opportunity; this includes coaching. The more coaches candidates have to choose from the better. Mentoring can also be a part of the program, whereby candidates are partnered with someone in senior leadership to learn from and deepen the learning.

(6.) Beta Test and Tweaks

Once the program is developed you’ve got to run a small beta test to see how it goes in order to work out the kinks and flaws. Ideally, one or two senior leaders will go through the program with a select group of candidates. You might not be able to test all parts of the program, but enough to get an idea of what’s going to work and what’s not.

(7.) Selection Process

The first selection process is critical. Your first candidates will set the bar for all candidates to follow. What’s absolutely critical at this juncture is that no, seriously no remedial candidates be selected. A leadership development program is not a “turn around” program for organizational delinquents. These are cohorts made up of 8–10, depending on the size of the organization, of your best future leaders.

The selection process should be grueling. I’m fond of a test that consists of three essay questions, a resume, a cover letter, and three recommendations within the organization. Followed by an extensive panel interview made up of three board members, which results in a ranking of each candidate on selected criteria.

Those who garner unanimous support are automatic locks, which ideally should fill up those 8–10 (per cohort) openings, and if there are a few discussions that have to happen, that’s okay, but I’m of mind that any non-unanimous candidate be rejected. Better a small, high-fucntioning cohort than “almost” candidates.

(8.) Marketing and Launch

The CEO, COO, CFO, and CTO and SVP of Sales need to get behind this thing and push. Their voices are critical to a successful launch of the program. There should also be in-house marketing and branding that bring awareness to the program and give it some mystique.

(9.) First Run

There are going to be hitches. Count on it. Someone will drop out or fail early on. Technology issues. Vendor issues. It will happen. You keep pushing on.

(10.) First Graduation

There should be recognition within the organization for those who complete the program. A diploma, trophy, and/or dinner. All work. And there should be a new assignment ready for them on day #1 after graduation. Ideally, an international assignment or something else equally as challenging.

(11.) Second & Third Year

These next two groups will provide a “proof of concept” for the program. By this point, you should have measurable ROI on your chosen metrics. You can expect to lose a quarter of participants to other organizations. That’s the price of doing business.

I’ve been developing/coaching in organizations since 2002, and it happens. You grow people and some will want to leave. That’s okay and healthy. The ROI though should account for that attrition and the cost of new hires for those vacated positions. If it’s a “break-even” proposition, then something needs to be tweaked.

(12.) Ongoing Success

The program should pay for itself and provide such unquestionable value to the organization that there’s never any talk of slashing its budget. If the program comes under fire then 1. Its become political. 2. It’s not returning a strong, or recognizable, ROI. 3. The program is broken and needs to be fixed.

Author: Matt Morava


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