- by Sohail Zindani

Leadership: Helping Leaders Lead! Leadership is an exhilarating ride of learning opportunities, full of surprises, setbacks and breakthroughs.

Each leader has their own journey, thus assuming that all leaders have the same path, and using this assumption to design similar one-size-fits-all leadership solutions is nothing short of a crime.

Consider the following questions to gauge the quality of how you currently develop leaders: 

- Are your leadership development goals in sync with business goals? Do we have leadership development goals to begin with?

- Do all your leaders go through a similar program, adapting a cookie-cutter approach to leadership development?

Such interventions must be like a journey. A journey often denotes more than simply going from one place to another—it invokes a sense of personally meaningful change; that you will return somehow different from when you left. Leadership development must simulate the essence of taking a journey so that, upon return, leaders and their organizations are transformed. And just like any other journey, a Learning Journey requires planning, discipline, and execution to be successful.

 

Designing Learning for Leaders 

Here are six things to keep in mind when creating a Learning Plan for Leaders: 

 

1. Alice & the Cat Talk

This conversation between Alice and the in “Alice in the Wonderland” tells so much about our general approach to planning things:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."

"I don't much care where –"

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.”

Knowing where you want to go is the first step towards reaching there. Do we have the same approach in designing learning interventions for Leaders? Start a dialogue with senior stakeholders and management teams to help contextualize and gain their buy-in to support this development investment. Know your business priorities, cultural challenges, and internal politics & leadership competencies. Design program objectives accordingly and share how leaders will specifically benefit from the overall intervention.  

 

2. Zap the Gap

A well-designed leadership development intervention starts with an accurate diagnosis to determine and focus on the most critical leadership skill gaps. Wait, leadership skills gap? Yes. Leadership Skills Gap – but do you have Leadership Competencies in place to gauge gaps? Do you have relevant assessments in place to measure leadership profiles against desired competencies? Generic Leadership Development programs have done more damage to Leadership Development than any other factor. Leaders in your organization need help. They might not be vocal about it – but the moment they get a sound & informed help; they are too excited about it. You may not have the world’s most established competency framework in place with a backup of most sophisticated assessments, yet you can safely rely on a basic level needs analysis or individual assessments based on 360-feedback. When a learner knows exactly where his or her gaps are, it creates a tension—and increased momentum—to improve and change. 

 

3. Beyond Training

Formal learning interventions are on a decline. More sophisticated tools for On-the-job learning are gaining popularity. Coaching is finally getting a due share in business world. Leadership Development Journey is over and above class-room formal trainings as it helps drive a culture of continuous learning where leaders are getting the support and development they need, even when they don’t realize it. Organizations that get it right are finding ways to engage their learners more before, during, and after the formal development events with the right mix of methodologies including coaching from mentors, projects back on the job, just-in-time learning through online portals, peer learning and networking groups, simulations, and executive speakers. At Learning Minds Group, we are helping our clients, nationwide with Learning Circles, through which we organize Executive Briefing Sessions for our clients, and invite elite speakers and professionals from other organizations and different walks of life to engage Leaders in a learning discourse. We are still struggling in finding the right match between organizational learning and social media tools but I can clearly see the monster of opportunity (social media) knocking at our doors. 

4. Leaders of Leaders 

How often you hear this in trainings: “Is my boss going through this too?” A successful execution of a Leadership Learning Journey requires support from the leaders of the learners. Without buy-in from the senior management team, and the continued support of the direct managers who manage those embarking on the Leadership Learning Journey, the initiative will surely fail. Involve them by providing content overviews through formal programs and reference guides. Establish learner-manager meetings to set expectations and agree on specific ways and opportunities to apply the new skills in a project or to solve a real business issue. Brief them on ideas on how to ensure on-the-job application of learning. Remember: If the immediate manager is not on-board, 99% of the time, your intervention is failing. It is your choice now, gamble on that 1% or make genuine efforts to onboard leaders of leaders.

 

5. ROIL

Return on Investment in Learning is what everyone is keenly interested in knowing. Although, I may have an argument that demands an equal level scrutiny for our social media investment, top management perks, ATL and BTL activities, etc. But for sure, ROIL is an area that needs more attention. Traditionally we have Kirkpatrick’s 4 level of evaluation as a globally recognized tool for evaluation – but let us set few scores right. There are various factors that contribute to the overall ROIL. Program Customization, Management Support, Market Dynamics, Baseline Calculations are few notable factors. Leadership Learning Journey should be evaluated throughout the journey and not just on ‘Happy Sheets’. Decide on the projects that the leaders will take up as part of the journey. Allocate needed resources to address key organization challenges that the leaders face with a clear expectation of desired results. Counting on training or consultant as a sole contributor to ROIL is as absurd as visiting a doctor, not following the prescription and then blaming the Doctor for poor health. Additionally, clarify parameters of the Leadership Development Intervention such as timings for the initiative, audience size, and delivery modalities (blended learning options). Align the intervention’s parameters to other organizational development tools and systems like talent management, succession planning, appraisal and performance management. Assign responsibilities and confirm accountabilities. That’s when Impact happens. Loose ended design and execution may create fancy programs but are doomed to failure.

For almost a decade now, the most exciting part of my career has been about developing quality leaders; Leaders who can inspire greatness in others; helping leaders lead is therefore, not just a profession – but a passion! 

 

Sohail is an International Speaker, Trainer, Consultant, Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Learning Minds!