In my last post, I wrote about the four reasons why leadership programs fail. The good news is that you can always improve your current program. A functional leadership program is composed of 3 elements which will describe later. There are ways to enhance existing leadership programs as they may already contain one or two of the three elements. You invest time, energy and money for the betterment of your leaders or your own leadership. It is important to consider all aspects of learning when improving those programs. Most of the time, companies want leaders to deal with complex issues. They have to consider various perspectives and understand the influence of external and internal factors. They need to think strategically while getting the buy-in of their teams and their company in a larger scope.

Nobody is perfect but everybody is perfectible. Leadership programs are built on the principal that leaders can learn and become better at what they do. A leadership program is not a cakewalk. It requires the leader to grow and to sometimes change assumptions and behavior. It obligates to part with the chrysalis leaders live in. It can be a painful process when boundaries loosen or totally disappear. Leadership programs are there to support leaders in their transformation.  

Becoming a better leader is not just fancy or a wish that you make. It is a a need and a commitment that both the leader and the company take together. Leaders need a framework or a process that allows them to grow in a "safe" environment. Their learning process will be encouraged and fostered. Research lead by the Center of Creative Leadership gives us an insight on what are the main components of a effective leadership program. So take your pen and get ready to take some notes.

The first element is "the heat experiences - the What":
We know what the word learning means but do we understand its implication in leadership. We learn when we face a (new) situation for which we do not know the answer. Remember learning how to read? You need first learn to recognize the letters, then assemble them in syllables, then words, then sentences and then paragraphs... In the end it makes sense but you have to face "heat experiences" before learning. Not having a clue of what is going on and what you are supposed to do with those letters. This causes confusion and it may feel really uncomfortable. Leaders have to be challenged to learn but not discouraged. Leadership programs should come into place when leaders are facing big challenges such as moving abroad for the first time. You should be able to answer the question: What is the leader supposed to learn?

The second element is "The colliding Perspectives - The who"
Your leader is facing an uncommon situation, he is stressed, he does not know how to go about it and may start to panic but you, the program, is here for him/her. The program should help the leader to approach his/her situation from a different point of view, the one of others. Putting them in someone else shoes can help better understand the new situation. Discussing with peer facing the same problem gives a multi-angle vision of the event. The new insights allow leaders to envisage other options he may have not considered. Remember the last time a suggestion helped you solve a problem? This is it. You should be able to answer the question: "Who can help the leader open up his/her mind?"

The last element is "the Elevated Sensemaking - The how"
Leaders can look for new perspectives but not integrate them as valuable lessons. This is when a coach or a specific program can be used. The most important is to help the leader make sense of his new situation and perspective. The leader has to grow, to be more open-minded than before. Having a mentor that went through the same learning process can facilitate the leader's evolution. The leader has a higher level of consciousness. At this stage, you should be able to answer the question: How can we help the leader make sense of the situation?

Those three elements are essentials to build or select a leadership program. Seen in this way, leadership programs cannot be punctual event. Leaders need continued assistance and support through programs, peers, coach, and mentors. Leaders should not be left alone when facing big changes or challenges. The possibility to share ones story helps to bring some relativity to what is happening and come up with solutions. Leaders are not only responsible for themselves and we should not expect that they will do everything on their own. They need to know what to learn, with whom they can learn and how to do it. Being a leader as never been easy which makes leadership programs imperative to ensure successful evolution of the leader, his/her team and company.

As some of you may have noticed, I am very interested in Leadership and how it can impact a team and an organization. One of my mentor, Ted Hayes, my former teacher in Employee Engagement at George Washington University forwarded me a very interesting white paper written by +Nick Petrie  from the Center for Creative Leadership.

He worked on what is called Vertical Leadership Development which needs our attention. I base my article on his white paper that you can find here.

We all heard of Leadership development which are used to assess and develop leaders development at work. There is also this belief that we cannot improve our leadership which I understand when I see leaders going to workshops and coming back with more knowledge than before but not implementing critical changes in their work.

This is where Vertical Leadership comes into play. As Nick Petrie mentions it, current leadership development focus on providing more knowledge or proofs that leaders have to change. Another issue can be that the programs do not talk to the leaders which may also come back to work with no to few support to implement their changes. It can also be hard to implement a change when the program length does not go over few days. Unfortunately, I am not going to become the best cook ever by reading cooking books but by trying and getting advice from experts. This works the same way for leadership and many other subjects.

In the white paper "four common issues" are cited when explaining the failure of current Leadership programs:

  1. "Wrong Focus": Too much information not enough practical advice
  2. "Lack of connectivity": Program's content does not fit Leader's need
  3. "Leader in isolation": Back to work leaders are left alone without supports to help them change.
  4. "Too short": The programs lack a long term aspect. 
There are very good informational leadership programs. They give you a basic information on the topic you are interested in but the practical advice are either not "practical"enough or simply unexciting. 

Imagine going to a Leadership Program thinking that you will learn how to deal with the complex negotiations but you end up in a program about anger management. The program is for sure interesting but do not give you the key elements to achieve your goal, dealing with complex negotiations. 

After your super leadership program you come back to work with the determination to implement some recommendations you received. All exited you talk about your plans with your coworkers and employees but no one seems to truly care. You may try some tricks but it will never fully work because people are too absorbed by their work. 

Another pitfall with Leadership Program is their shortness. They are sometimes planed as vaccines with yearly injection but no follow up in between programs. That may trigger a feeling of hopelessness that ends up in low employee engagement. You, as an organization, may provide tools to help your employees and leaders to grow but you do not give them the support needed to implement the changes necessary. 

Leadership programs can be disregarded by leaders because they do not find the help they are looking for or they are not really interested in growing. Growth is a long and hard process where your assumptions are shaken and where you need to change your mindset in order to go further. Growth can be very beneficial for your organization and its individuals but it is not easy. 

As we know that growth take time and effort when need to consider the impact of both factors on the way we develop leadership programs. The aim of Vertical development is to accompany leaders in their development by providing adequate programs, with the required support and length.

The question is now: How can we develop better leadership programs?