Leadership Development: The Ultimate Consulting Soft Skill

Leadership Development is a big focus of organizations the world over, with Leadership Development programs and training garnering an annual investment of close to $14B each year. This is for good reason – leadership is the one “it” factor that can quickly transform a company.

With so much money being spent on developing leadership skills, it is safe to say it had better work. Sadly, if you ask senior leaders at large organizations if they think leadership development programs are hitting the mark, many will say they are not. The return on investment is often not there as these programs tend to be too broad and don’t focus on the specific context and business needs relative to a particular organization.

Given the need every organization has for leadership development, and the massive investment in this being made annually, let’s look at what leadership development truly is and how it can be conducted effectively.

Leadership Development

What Is Leadership Development?

What is leadership development you ask? Leadership development involves the expansion of a person’s ability to perform as a leader within an organization and focuses on developing both their leadership abilities and their attitudes. It involves increasing leader confidence and can be achieved via formal leadership development programs, mentorship or coaching.

Leadership development programs must focus on both what it takes to be a great leader, and what must be modified behaviorally.

For example, does an organization need someone who can lead a team through transition or someone who will foster creative ideas and inspire innovation? Very different leadership qualities are needed here, and both require specific training and potential behavior modification.

Otherwise, you find a person comes away from training with a laundry list of leadership skills, versus specific actionable tools and skills to apply immediately to his or her specific role within an organization.

Not only do organizations need to develop leaders to perform better in their current roles, but they rely on leadership development programs to identify and up-skill potential future leaders. The more specific the training is, the more likely it is that the employee finds it beneficial, and the more likely it is that it will be implemented for years to come inside of your organization.

Developing Leadership Skills

When determining how to develop leadership skills, you have to first identify leadership development goals. Once goals are identified, you will be able to determine the “how”.

Leadership development is not as simple as sending people through a one-size-fits-all program. Research has shown that for leadership programs to be effective, they must be focused on what specifically a leader needs to develop (e.g., leading through change or transition, delegation, empathy, or interpersonal relationship skills).

Without this focus, individuals can leave leadership development programs with lots of head knowledge and leadership tools, but little ability to implement what they learned in the business context they work in daily.

For example, if the leadership development goal is for someone to become better at delegating work to team members, individuals would benefit from specific training on both the benefits of delegation and how they can accomplish it, especially if their known behavioral default is to control the work environment.

Attendees need to understand the root of their need to control, and how they can release some of it. Not only will this help to ensure necessary work gets done, but it will increase employee satisfaction as a result of reduced micromanagement. Everyone wins and there is a specific and measurable return on investment from sending the leader through a leadership development program.

One of the things that makes building and evaluating leadership development programs so difficult is that it’s tricky to quantify the impact of the training. However, some metrics that can help:

  • Increased customer/client satisfaction
  • Increased team satisfaction/retention
  • Accelerated avg. time to promotion for folks that completed a leadership development program

If the time your people “developing” leadership skills isn’t producing results, it’s time to readdress the goals and how leadership skills can be better developed.

Best Leadership Development Books – Our Top 5 List

One of the best ways to augment leadership development is to learn from those who have gone before us. We put together our top 5 list of the best leadership development books that are a must read for anyone wanting to grow their leadership skills.

  1. The Breakthrough Imperative

As a leader, you are expected to show “breakthrough” results within the first year or two in a new role, otherwise you will be looking for a new job. This book focuses on how you can achieve results fast. This book is written by Mark Gottfredson, Kath Tsakalakis, Steve Schaubert and John Case.

  1. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

John Maxwell’s best-known leadership book, this is a must read if you want to motivate people to follow you as a leader.

  1. Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman unlocks the importance of EI in this powerful book. Research shows that emotional intelligence is one of the first things employers look for in an interview – and it’s actually how you build rapport, both in the interview and on the job. This is a must read for any leader wishing to grow their interpersonal relationship and leadership skills.

  1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Written by consultant and speaker Patrick Lencioni, this book explores team dynamics and how to avoid the traps that keep teams from becoming high performing machines.

  1. The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School

Selena Rezvani interviewed successful women leaders and created a compilation of what women in leadership need to know, what to do and what to avoid.

Developing Leadership Skills – A Lifelong Pursuit

Developing leadership skills takes persistent effort and a willingness to receive candid feedback. You know the old adage, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. As such, seeking specific (and sometimes painful) feedback – from leaders, peers, and external experts – is critical to grow and develop leadership skills quickly.

Developing leadership skills is a lifelong pursuit, but for those who stick with it, the investment pays off handsomely in extra impact, influence, and recognition.

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Filed Under: Corporate Training, Leadership, management consulting