Recently, a client told me that he was watching one of his kids’ soccer games when it dawned on him: the kids on the team get more training than his company provides for its leaders. “I’m responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of business,” he shared with me, “yet nobody has ever formally trained me on how to be a leader.”
In my role as a management consultant, I’ve often seen companies take a relatively random and unstructured approach to leadership development. In many cases, the assumption seems to be that if the organization’s leaders have the right certifications and tools, that should be all they need to do their job.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the outcome I typically see is that leaders make sporadic, event-based improvement. There’s generally little or no real alignment created between the leader’s preparation and the organization’s overarching business goals and objectives. As a result, there’s often a lot of chaos, busy-work, and backsliding … and most significantly, they’re unable to hit their goals.
Science based leadership development takes a more formalized, structured approach to leadership development. It is designed to create a structure for the leaders, guidance on ways for them to interact with that structure, and then experimentation at the process level, with multiple iterations aimed at making daily improvements.
When we help clients to do this, we often start by asking them to talk about what their leaders are doing for the organization, how well aligned they are with the corporate goals and objectives, and what their day-to-day structure looks like. In most cases, clients have identified problems in each of these areas. We then create an approach to leadership development that is more intentional and structured, and generally comprised of three elements:
I’ve unfortunately seen many companies fail, primarily because they try to get immediately from point A to Z. Instead, science based leadership development emphasizes taking smaller, incremental steps. This approach works in part because it leads to better and more consistent results. It can also reveal a lot of ‘golden nuggets’ along the way — insights into ways people and processes interact that can, in turn, lead to other process improvements and greater buy-in.
A specific process to follow that I have found works well is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model. Following this iterative, four-step process allows leaders to focus on understanding and eliminating the gap or obstacle that they’re currently running into. They can then define a particular step or experiment, perform the experiment, evaluate the results, and decide on their next course of action. With each iteration, their approach to leadership is refined and also aligned more closely with the business goals of the organization.
The key takeaway is never to be completely satisfied with how you’re managing your organization’s leadership development. When you treat it as an iterative process, you can keep going back and improving it. Science based leadership development is really about aligning your leaders with what the organization is striving to achieve, and then creating the structures, daily routines, and patterns that will help them to keep your people working toward those same goals.