How to Develop Leaders That Boost Results

Welcome to our car wash, otherwise known as leadership development training. We’re going to hose you down and dry you off over the course of the day.

Topics we’re covering during this training include critical thinking, achieving success through people, coaching from a distance, collaboration skills, team creativity, coaching as a virtual team, non-verbal communication, managing change, listening, building trust, project management, and giving and receiving feedback.

Then we’ll buff you up and send you back to your respective areas to pose as some of the best leaders in business today. Everybody ready?

OK. This isn’t real. But it’s only a slight exaggeration of how leaders are “trained” in many companies. I call it car wash training because it rarely sticks. It doesn’t improve business results. It adds little to no value. Consequently, it’s a waste of money.

Technologies, products and economies constantly change. According to Noel Tichy, author of the book, The Leadership Engine, to get ahead and stay ahead, companies need agile, flexible, innovative leaders who can anticipate change and respond to new realities swiftly.

I’ve consulted to some leadership engines; companies that Tichy describes as possessing a proven system for creating dynamic leaders at every level. General Electric, IBM, 3M, Procter & Gamble and Dow Chemical are leadership engines because they’ve figured out how to routinely recognize and develop the best leaders. They have formal leadership development processes. Senior and middle leaders are filled internally. They’re frequently recruited by other companies.

And they share a common system for building great leaders, which features:

  • Clear expectations of leaders
  • A rigorous assessment process
  • Focused leadership development based on assessment gaps and opportunities to improve business results
  • Accountability for results—including incentive compensation.

Here’s an example of one way we helped a client’s leadership team implement this system.

Step One:
Demonstrate to senior leadership team what impact they have on the entire communication system so they can better understand how to use it. The three main sources of information in any organization are leaders—what they say and what they do—systems and processes such as measurement, reward and recognition systems, and formal communication channels such as town hall meetings and newsletters.   Leaders have the biggest impact.

Step Two:
Create clear communication expectations among the leadership team. Our client reached agreement on five expectations they believe were critical to them and to leaders throughout their company.
Here are their expectations of each other:

  • Communicate a clear, shared vision, strategy and goals that set high expectations.
  • Build a culture of continuous improvement.
  • Collaborate among people, departments and disciplines to accelerate innovation and superior results.
  • Select and nurture the best people for their roles.
  • Provide people with the resources they need to put customers front and center of everything we do.

Step Three:
Conduct an assessment. We helped each leader create an improvement plan that they shared with their colleagues. The leaders helped each other strengthen their skills and knowledge around the expectations. This, in turn, helped improve operating and financial performance. My role was to facilitate the leadership team’s process, drawing on best practices from other leaders who’ve gone through similar experiences.

Step Four:
Align the reward system to expectations. The team identified two performance categories—financial improvement and people improvement. We were asked to attend their weekly team meetings and provide counsel to individual team members as they requested it. Over time, the team’s scores improved as we conducted follow-up assessments. In the end, the system produced a high performing team.

The big success was the launch of a new product into a global marketplace three months sooner than they had originally planned.

In the words of the team leader, “They came together as a team because they began communicating better with each other. They got their own teams on board and working together better than they had before. Together their energy was more directed than prior to following the practices of a leadership engine.”

Key Takeaway: Leadership development must be a planned, ongoing process that includes clear expectations, ongoing assessment, learning focused on creating improved business results and accountability tied to their reward system. Anything less is to some extent toothless.

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