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FMI Quarterly/September 2013/September 1, 2013

Leadership Development Tactics That Actually Work

workingplans11._imageAs a leader of your organization, you reluctantly conclude that the current leadership team lacks the necessary skills to bring your organization to the next level. Your company’s bottom line and its lowered employee morale are proving that insufficient leadership is causing your organization to suffer as a result. When you look to the next generation of leaders for a breath of fresh air, you find there is a lag in developed leadership skills as well. You would like to retire within the next five to seven years, but who will take over the helm? How do you develop new leaders quickly and effectively enough to ensure that the company will prosper?

2013q3_leadership_development_ex1If you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone. Further contributing to the dilemma of insufficient skills is the insufficiency of human resources. The A/E/C industry has recently experienced a difficult recession, forcing many leaders to cut their staff to the bare minimum. After this painful reduction in force, what is left of your key talent may also be close to burnout or underdeveloped in leadership skills. “How do I develop my leaders quickly?” This is a bit of a conundrum. “Development” and “fast” are not the best of companions. Actively taking the right developmental steps can reduce the time substantially that is needed to develop leaders that are more effective. Over the last two decades, FMI’s Center for Strategic Leadership has created a list of best practices for developing current and future leaders. Through assessing for talent gaps as well as discovering individual areas of strengths and improvements, these tactics can help achieve a more intentional development plan for individuals and leadership groups (See Exhibit 1).

FEEDBACK

Feedback is a way to help others understand what is working and what is not working with their leadership style. When you give feedback to others, you provide them with information that will help them become more effective leaders. You are helping them gain self-awareness around their strengths and areas for improvement as individuals, which will help them continue to learn and grow within their roles. The key to providing feedback for developmental purposes is to ensure it is constructive. FMI prefers to use the Plus/Delta Model (+/Δ) for giving and receiving feedback because it helps the feedback provider keep the conversation productive. We use the delta symbol because it is the Greek symbol for change. Providing suggestions for how others can change in order to become more effective in their role is much more constructive and helpful than providing negative feedback.

2013q3_leadership_development_ex2When giving positive feedback (+), you provide your observations around what that person is doing that is positive and validate his or her behavior and what he or she should continue doing. When giving delta feedback (Δ), you offer constructive suggestions on what that person should start or stop doing in order to become even more effective (see Exhibit 2). All feedback you provide should be based on your observations of an employee’s behavior, not personal attacks or critiques. Giving and receiving feedback is a great way to develop the leaders around you. The best part is that it is a free development tactic, requiring only observation, thought and time to put it to work for your organization!

MENTORING

The mentoring process is an opportunity for a more experienced leader to share wisdom and guidance to a lesser experienced employee to assist in advancing his or her life, career and education. While this development tactic requires a much larger time commitment (up to 12 months), it has proven to be effective in grooming the next generation of leaders. Not only are the mentees exposed to the effective strategies and best practices used by the mentors, but also they may learn about organizational history, operations and ways to advance their careers. The mentors can pass down their hard-earned wisdom while accelerating the mentees’ learning, development and career opportunities.

Mentoring is a great leadership development tactic, especially if you have the interest, commitment and resources to set up a program properly. Often, FMI sees mentoring programs fail due to lack of commitment and resources within organizations. However, if these essential pieces are put in place, a mentoring program can be effective and rewarding for all parties involved.

FORMAL EDUCATION

Formal education is a way to develop specific skills or knowledge necessary for a leadership position. Leaders have a variety of options to obtain these skills, from attending business school to acquiring business acumen skills to enrolling in trade schools to develop technical competencies. Formal education can include seminars, workshops, short courses or extended programs, such as trade schools. The investment provides your current and future leaders with the knowledge, tools and strategies to grow into higher roles within your organization.

EXECUTIVE COACHING

Executive coaching is a one-on-one collaborative relationship between a paid professional coach and the client, which focuses on equipping the client with the necessary tools to develop him or her further. Executive coaching also helps to facilitate a shift in a leader’s knowledge and behavior so he or she is more effective in his or her role. Executive coaching helps leaders achieve bottom-line business results. It is a powerful process that helps leaders develop greater self-awareness and put a plan in place to leverage their strengths and improve areas for development. Leadership can often be a lonely position, and as leaders move up in the organization, they are less likely to have someone who is willing to give them honest, specific feedback. Executive coaches help leaders by guiding them as they work through the issues and challenges that accompany being a leader in this fast-moving industry.

Executive coaching is an effective leadership development tactic, since it is personalized to fit each leader’s needs and style. It is also a way to build in accountability for performance and development for that specific person. The average executive coaching engagement consists of monthly calls with the executive coach for approximately six to 12 months. Other programs can include more frequent calls (i.e., weekly or biweekly) as well as face-to-face sessions, and the duration can vary across providers. If your organization has the resources available (time, financial, leaders), this development tactic is sure to provide better results for your leaders.

DEVELOPMENTAL ASSIGNMENTS

Developmental assignments are a great way to help your leaders learn new knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) in the workplace. After identifying the gaps in your leaders’ skill sets, seek out or create developmental opportunities in the needed areas. These assignments should focus on helping the individual learn and grow. Also known as stretch assignments, they may push your leaders outside of their comfort zones because the leaders are forced to learn something new. When incorporated correctly, your current and future leaders will begin to fill their gaps in competencies over time, resulting in better performance through stronger KSAs.

Responsibility for identifying developmental opportunities and creating developmental assignments often falls to the manager or boss. Although the manager may know what KSAs are required to reach the next rung in leadership, the high  potential (or current leader) should also be looking for developmental opportunities for growth. Input from both the manager and the high potential is instrumental in ensuring that the developmental assignment is targeted and beneficial.

FORMAL ASSESSMENTS

Formal assessments are another way to help leaders gain self-awareness about their leadership style and the impact they have on others. This development tactic is especially helpful because leaders can identify things like personality preferences, strengths to leverage and areas for improvement. FMI uses a variety of assessments. For example, the combination of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Natural Ability Battery (NAB) and a 360°survey can provide a well-rounded set of feedback for a leader. The MBTI provides self-awareness based on personality preferences and how these preferences affect others in the workplace. The NAB provides self-awareness through focusing on the natural abilities you hold and how those influence the way you learn and process information. The 360° survey provides self-awareness on how others view you and your leadership skills in the workplace. Although we highlight these three, there are many other formal assessment tools available to develop self-awareness for leaders.

Formal assessments are one of the best practices for leadership development as they help identify key areas in which to focus improvements for the workplace and in your leadership. It is best to have a certified practitioner compile, analyze
and debrief your assessments to gain a full understanding of what the results mean and how to use them to move forward in the future.

PEER GROUPS

A peer group is a group of individuals who have a common interest (i.e., industry, market, clients) who meet frequently to discuss challenges they are facing, ways to capitalize on opportunities and trends in the marketplace. This leadership development tactic offers current and future leaders the opportunity to learn from different perceptions in the industry. Peer groups provide a forum for leadership-level members to discuss strategies and to connect with others to explore valued perspectives when facing challenges or opportunities. Learning from the experience of others is what makes this development tactic so effective. A peer group also provides a network of leaders you can rely on when you need to learn a new skill or area of the business while also being able to offer your unique wisdom and insight. These groups are formed through assorted associations, consultancies, and/or educational cohorts, formally or informally.

ACTION LEARNING

Action learning is a newer development tactic that is proving to be effective in the workplace. In action learning, organizations task a group of current and future leaders to solve a real-life challenge they are facing. This group works together to solve the challenge over a specific period, depending on the extent of the challenge. A key piece that differentiates this from developmental assignments is that throughout the process, the leaders intentionally should be reflecting on the lessons learned and the leadership styles in the group. The goal is focused growth in a cohort-style, problem-specific situation.

Action learning creates an environment where leaders can learn from their own experience in a real-life problem. This development tactic is effective because it helps leaders reflect on how well they reacted in the situation, the effectiveness of the strategies they suggested, and the overall process they experienced.

FORMAL TRAINING PROGRAMS

Formal training programs help to develop the necessary skills for leaders to move up to the next level in your organization. Training program topics can vary greatly, so it is important to focus the education of your leaders on the specific areas where development is most needed. Whether emphasis is on leadership skills, communication, project management or productivity, formal training programs are effective tactics to develop your leaders.

Formal training programs can be a short-term commitment (one day or less) or a longer in length (several months or more). Depending on the needs of the organization, you should seek various types of training opportunities to ensure your leaders are receiving the development required. The most effective internal training programs are those that fall in line with one of the company’s core competencies (i.e., skills training). If your leaders need development in an area where you are not an expert, we recommend seeking formal training from an external partner to ensure the development is effective.

CONCLUSION

The needs of a leadership team vary greatly from organization to organization and these leadership development tactics are presented as different opportunities to increase the effectiveness of leadership development of your team. As a leader of your organization, it is up to you to identify what the right leadership-development tactics are for your leadership team, or to involve people that can help assess for gaps that need to be addressed. Just as development needs can vary between organizations, they also vary for different individuals.

These tactics can be combined to create programs targeted for individuals or for a group (programs for high potentials, as an example). Depending on the structure and size of your leadership team, pursuing development at a group level may be a faster and streamlined approach to developing multiple leaders at a time. At the other end of the spectrum is the more personalized approach to developing leaders one at a time, which provides the individualized track within the organization. Whether individual programs, group programs or a combination of the two are implemented in your organization, the importance of leadership development cannot be overlooked in a time when talent is more difficult to come by and succession plans become more important. Through investing in developing internal talent, an organization can grow its talent pipeline and create a deep bench of effective leaders.


Kim Morton is a consultant with FMI Corporation. She can be reached at 303.398.7262 or via email at kmorton@fminet.com. Paige Ferguson is a consultant with FMI. She can be reached at 303.398.7254 or via email at pferguson@fminet.com.

 

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