The best leadership teams contain a healthy dose of in-house talent, where leaders have developed institutional knowledge that only comes from rising up within the company.
The obvious challenge for teams that depend on promoting from within is that they have to be good at developing leaders. Failure to do so means either promoting weak managers or being left with no choice but to hire from the outside.
All CEOs will tell you that part of their job is to guide the way for the next quarter century. With that in mind, any long-term strategy that doesn't include a healthy investment in the next generation of leaders in the business is missing a key ingredient. Here are four keys to building a winning leadership development initiative.
1. Commit and start.
There are two types of people: those who dive in head first and those who carefully plot and plan their course before taking a single step. When it comes to leadership development, the former is definitely the way to go. Your leadership development program will never be perfect in the timing, curriculum, format or selection process for eligibility.
Your program won't be flawless, but it doesn't need to be. A great leadership development program accelerates your organization on so many levels beyond just the information taught. It creates excitement in your organization that promoting from within is not only a possibility but also the goal. In addition, you'll be amazed at how these programs further spur the pursuit of leadership knowledge even outside the walls of your offices.
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2. Make it continuous and consistent.
If getting started is the most important step, then establishing the frequency and rhythm of your program is a close second. An infrequent or random leadership course or seminar may be better than none, but it's better when you allow a program to build momentum. Forgo the annual leadership retreat in favor of monthly (or even weekly) instruction.
Also, pass down your organization's leadership philosophies. A reliance on outside instructors or guest speakers to coach your leaders is likely to produce inconsistent messaging. While the occasional well-vetted guest instructor can be a healthy change of pace, make sure your existing leadership team provides the foundational.
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3. Engage in deep conversations with your team.
When the subject of enrollment comes up, most of your leaders will be able to quickly identify a handful of the obvious standouts on their teams, so huddle with them to determine who belongs.
A leadership development program should never be a golden ticket into the executive suite. Instead, it should be an additional way to help qualify for future promotions.
With that in mind, you're better off casting a wide net in the early stages of your employees' careers. A program like this is designed to build leaders for the future, not just enlist the most ready-made of your work force. An outgoing, charismatic star performer may be the obvious choice to enroll, but don't overlook the reserved, thoughtful and under-the-radar people who could grow into a leader with the right guidance and encouragement.
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4. Keep things fresh.
Once you make the decision to move forward with a leadership development program and select participants, it's time to draw attention to its structure. Coaching your team based solely on your organization's management philosophies and values is critically important.
However, the way you get that message across should be diverse. Favor a healthy mix of lecture in a classroom environment, smaller discussion groups and one-on-one development. By instructing the team using a variety of methods, you'll keep the students engaged and will have the greatest likelihood of reaching everyone.
In the same spirit of variety you should mix in homework, such as group projects and assigned outside reading. Getting your future leaders in the practice of collaboration and investing in their growth outside the workplace will help to establish healthy leadership habits for years to come.
No organization can have too many qualified leaders, and you can never know when you'll need to replace, add or promote someone. The organizations that are intentional about the development of their next generation leaders will be prepared for anything.