The most effective leadership development approach possible

The most effective leadership development approach possible

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA
01. Nov 2020 | 8 min read

The most effective leadership development approach possible

Many are sceptical to the return on the investment made in leadership development. A promising new approach is to support leaders in their first 100 days in a new role, when many things change, success is in the balance and the level of learning at its highest. 20-25% of leaders change roles each year. Supporting early success for all these leaders, thereby laying the platform for their success throughout the 4.5 years in the role, must be the most effective approach possible to leadership development.

Leadership development is viewed as important but done ineffectively. A McKinsey study showed that 2/3 of executives rank leadership development as their top human-capital priority. A leading UK business school showed that only 7% of senior managers think that their companies develop global leaders effectively.

The leadership development industry is being digitalised rapidly (see Competitive trends in the leadership development industry). The level of real innovation, where digital technology is utilised to create radically new approaches, is very limited. There are perhaps only two exceptions: simulations and step-by-step support. See Digital tools on offer for leadership development for more. This article looks at step-by-step support for leader role transitions.

 

Success is created early

We believe that success is created early, or not at all. Usain Bolt was a notorious slow starter, but even he didn’t win the race if he got too bad a start.

Usain Bolt losing

It is the same for managers: if they struggle at the beginning of their time in a new role, they will probably struggle for the rest of the time they spend in that role.

Managers spend about 4.5 years in each role, on average. The frequency of role changes increased though the 80s and 90s but stabilised in the 2000s. Younger managers can spend as little as 2 years in a role, whilst older managers stay in role for 6 to 8 years.

If organisations could provide a standardised, best-practice based approach to helping managers succeed in their first 100 days in a new role, it would lay the platform for success for the full 4.5 years in role. Given that 20-25% of all managers change roles in any given year, such an approach would lift the performance of about ¼ of all managers annually! We cannot think of any other approach to leadership development that could give greater leverage. Can you?

leverage small

 

Alternative approaches to

leadership development

The alternatives to supporting success in the first 100 days are comparatively weak:

  1. The norm today is organisation-specific leadership development programmes, with a focus on personal development and the skills an organisation needs to teach its managers. Such programmes struggle to prove their worth. It’s very difficult to provide content that everyone present needs, and even more difficult to transfer learning from the programme to real life.

    Recent research has shown that, with the right design, such programmes can pay off, but over 60% of organisations still report that their leadership development approach isn’t providing the kind of benefit needed.

    The norm needs to change.

  2. 1-to-1 coaching and mentoring is now common and can be helpful. Some studies show positive effects of coaching in individual and organisational performance. However, coaching and mentoring are labour-intensive. The hourly rates for external consultants set a clear limit for how many managers can receive coaching. Internal mentors have very limited capacity as they are hit by the stresses of everyday life, like more than 100 emails every day.

Mentoring photo cowomen small

In addition, both coaching and mentoring are a bit hit-and-miss as so much depends on the relationship with the coach.

Coaching is a good supplement, but not an overall solution.

  1. Gamified simulations, where users ‘play’ specific work processes or situations that are recreated in a virtual space, hold great promise. Users become hooked, repeating and embedding the learning again and again.

Repetition repetition repetition

But such simulations are normally tailor-made for specific situations. They take time to create and are expensive.

Gamified simulations can work very well for large scale events and processes like teaching 1000s of airport staff their way around a new terminal building before it opens. For leadership development they are good for sprucing up programmes, adding to their blended nature, but don’t provide an effective one-size-fits-all.

  1. E-learning offers an enormous suite of skills programmes to choose from, interaction with other learners and the possibility of virtual coaching on top. Many organisations use their own managers and employees as teachers, adding to the authenticity. In that programmes can be created quickly and quite cheaply, the content can be tailor made to the situation. Use and value can be measured, and certification used as an end goal for the user.

    E-learning is displacing the traditional, primarily physical, leadership programmes described in point 1. Even mid-size organisations can create their own ‘Corporate University’ with their own curricula.


The future

It looks like e-learning is the future, incorporating digital coaching and gamified simulations. Bigger organisations are already well on their way, and the transition to digitalised learning is of course accelerated by Corona.

But none of the approaches on offer today comes close to the potential effectiveness of focusing on success in a new role in 100 days. As stated above, a manager spends about 4.5 years in a role. That’s 1642.5 days. It follows that success in the first 100 days lays the platform for success for the following 1500. That’s a 15:1 payback. How can that not be the most effective leadership development approach possible?

If you want to know more, please download our ebook

Free ebook about how leadership success is created in a new role

 

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

Organisational psychologist with an MBA. Broad top management experience spanning many industries, functions and countries, including 10 years with corporate responsibility for HR. Extensive experience as consultant in private, public and voluntary sectors. A number of board positions in the education and culture sectors. Started career as counsellor for drug and alcohol abusers.

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