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Garin Rouch

Distinction Consulting

Organisation Development Consultant

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Leadership development: Moving from good to great

What can be done to transform your leadership programmes from good to great and shift the performance dial? Organisational development experts Dani Bacon and Garin Rouch provide crucial answers.
Lake and Mountain

Leadership development is big business. Over $60 billion is spent every year on programs globally. Thumb through the many glossy training brochures and you’ll be met with a delicious menu of skill dishes to choose: from coaching skills and feedback to influencing upwards. 

Promises are made that by the end of the programme your managers will have transformed from a task-orientated caterpillar into a strategic butterfly capable of rising above the complexity of your organisation and solving your most difficult issues, all while harnessing the brilliance of their people and leading the delivery of the strategy. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that expectations often fail to match reality. So why does this happen and what can be done to transform your leadership programmes from good to great and shift the performance dial? 

There is no universal formula for leadership development.  Managers come from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of prior knowledge, skills, learning predispositions, attitudes, motivations, self-perceptions, and beliefs. Yet, many programmes adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to development, akin to sheep dipping our people.

Extensive studies have found that leadership training and development programmes only have a moderately positive effect on organisation performance. Although the quality and efficacy of leadership theory and training techniques have improved, research by Lacerenza in 2017 found that the effectiveness of leadership development has only shown slight improvement in the last 20 years. 

Context is king, skills come second

Many leadership programmes are narrowly focused on delivering content, rather than developing the context for leaders to do great work. 

The bias leans toward equipping managers with essential skills, yet research by Gartner indicates that focusing on skill proficiency alone increases managerial effectiveness by only 4%. 

Conversely, investing time in optimising managers’ work environments yields significant returns. For example, enhancing job manageability boosts effectiveness by 21% and simplifying tasks and removing process hurdles can make jobs 1.4 times more manageable.

Managers don’t view their responsibilities in isolated skill sets

Make it relevant

Seldom will a manager sit back in their chair and think “I’m now going to delegate for the next 30 minutes”. Managers don’t view their responsibilities in isolated skill sets but as a continuum of tasks, challenges, and decisions. 

It’s crucial to frame learning in a way that resonates with their experiences, focusing on real-world challenges rather than abstract concepts like delegation. They understand the concepts but struggle to make the connection between knowing how to delegate and knowing when to delegate. 

Delegation will often only be one component of a problem they are trying to address. So, it’s important to frame the learning around challenges and tasks they need to complete. 

Habitualise the essential management routines

Effective leadership hinges on embedding the right habits into daily, weekly, and quarterly routines. These routines help with problem prevention, capacity building, and anticipating challenges. 

Identifying and implementing essential habits can improve job manageability by 71%. These habits could include ensuring proactive activities such as planning take place, coordinating resources with other leaders or performing regular 1-2-1s with their team.

You need to spend time with your managers and team members to identify your organisation’s essential habits and routines. 

You can equip them with the required skills and then provide them with the space and opportunity to apply them. Repetition creates routines that last long after the learning has finished. 

Bring the system into the training room

It’s important to inject a sense of agency and responsibility into the learning. You want your aspiring leaders to participate in learning that affects change in their organisation. By adding some heat and intensity into the process you increase the focus of learners. 

We often invite key people from the organisational system into the room and provide a platform for them to engage with each other to improve the system, relationships or processes. 

For example, we will often invite the participants to dissect the organisation strategy, provide critique and develop questions that they would like to ask the designers of the document. 

We then invite the CEO in for a carefully facilitated session. Here the participants provide feedback on the effectiveness of the strategy, they ask clarification questions on how the strategy should guide their activities and clarify decision-making authority. 

This powerful dialogue means that the CEO gets direct feedback on how their leaders are interpreting their strategy and how the strategy development process can be optimised. The participants also get exposure to senior leadership and become comfortable asking challenging questions to power. 

It’s important to build in structured opportunities for leaders to critically assess themselves

Get beneath the surface

As a manager progresses through their career and take on increasing amounts of responsibility, their leadership beliefs and assumptions need to evolve as well. Rather than reverting to the mindset at their previous level, they must be flexible in their thinking and realise that how they add the most value to the organisation has changed. 

We’ve all encountered the manager who misses doing the job and becomes the team’s chief problem solver rather than coaching their people to think for themselves. It holds back the team’s development and stops the manager from focusing on what they should be doing. 

It’s important to build in structured opportunities for leaders to critically assess themselves, re-evaluate their long-standing beliefs and assumptions about leadership. You also need them to audit their activities and responsibilities with their line manager and their direct reports to identify the things they should stop, start or keep doing to add the greatest value.

Final word

To get started on transforming  your leadership programmes from good to great then start with these 3 steps:

  1. Customise Development: Adapt leadership programmes to fit individual needs, acknowledging diverse backgrounds and learning styles. Provide opportunities for managers to update their leadership beliefs and approaches as they progress.
  2. Focus on Environment: Shift emphasis from just skills to improving the workplace context. Invest in simplifying tasks and removing obstacles to make managers’ jobs more manageable.
  3. Engage the Whole System: Involve key stakeholders in learning to create a sense of ownership. Encourage dialogue with their senior leaders and their direct reports to better understand and implement organisational strategies. Foster self-reflection to refine leadership practices and clarify roles.

Interested in this topic? Read Three ways OD can help HR get the edge in 2024

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Garin Rouch

Organisation Development Consultant

Read more from Garin Rouch

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