Article: Refocusing leadership development: From program to process

Leadership Development

Refocusing leadership development: From program to process

In Brandon Hall Groups Leadership: State of Leadership Development 2015, it is stated that 71% of research respondents said their leaders are not ready to lead their organizations into the future.
Refocusing leadership development: From program to process

Organizations need to rethink their current approach to leadership development and it begins by emphasizing process and not programs.  Today, leadership development is seen as the third most important talent challenge that organizations are struggling with following the top two talent challenges of shortage of talent and talent attraction. In Brandon Hall Group’s Leadership: State of Leadership Development 2015, it is stated that 71% of research respondents said their leaders are not ready to lead their organizations into the future.1

It’s hard to disagree with the unfortunate reality that a deficit of high-quality leaders is a global concern. Issues that hold back effective leadership include:

The quality and quantity problem

Organizations often state that they have a cap on development resources, so they find themselves focusing their resources on the few emerging leaders and high potentials. This thinking is dated and dangerous, because organizations increasingly need leadership talent at many levels, and new leaders have much to bring to the table. 

Inconsistent investment

Organizations need to get the fact that leadership development is not a short term training program and start to invest in developing people during both good and bad times. Also, cost and job role should not be the governing factor for leadership development. There are exceptional and cost-effective online and blended leadership development solutions available in the market. Yet, there is a mismatch between how resources are allocated and where a participant in a learning program realizes the most value. It is essential that organizations adjust their investments to align to true value. 

Unbalanced approach

Leadership development should become the part of the fabric of the organization. Unless it is treated as an ongoing, strategic initiative by HR and the business, leadership pipelines will be weak and potentially impact the ability of the business. Hence, a balance of programs with process can result in a strong organizational fabric capable of supporting leadership development at all levels.

It is critical for organizations to close the gap between ineffective and effective leadership– providing leaders with simple yet powerful approaches to making the best use of their time, on an ongoing basis.

Leadership is not a "program" yet many leadership development methods promote programs rather than process..  And the leadership process must scale and be compatible with the environment in which leaders operate — one of constant change and a scarcity of "white space". White space is the available time and space between every leader’s mountain of tasks, emails and meetings. What leaders do with this space can make the difference between success and failure. 

A leadership development process may include learning programs, but what happens before and after, and how leaders apply their knowledge and use their white space, is what creates strong leadership. For instance, we don’t get in shape going to the gym once a year (as you would attending your annual leadership event).  What are we doing two or three times a week to get better as leaders – to get in leadership shape!   

Refocusing leadership development directing the white space

Most of the organizations are on the front lines of shifting mind-sets and beliefs in parallel with skill development. It isn’t easy. A great deal of the responsibility for this shift resides with individual leaders, and organizations must guide them along a new path, directing their white space in ways that align mind-sets with economic and organizational drivers.

Directing the white space is a developmental process. While it doesn’t eliminate the provision of relevant learning programs, it goes well beyond hoping that a program will fix a problem as large as ineffective leadership. Real developmental value occurs in the periods before and after a program, making sure the learning investment sticks. We know that without any reinforcement and practice, participants will forget 90% of what they learned after just 30 days.

So how do you direct the white space? What does it look like in practice?

It can be as simple as developing a checklist of small but powerful pauses in any work day or week where you perform a leadership action that makes a difference in your ability to develop others and support your organization’s goals. These need not be complicated.

There are several techniques that when part of a regular process become routine for leaders and employees. 

Here are some simple yet powerful techniques to get you started in practice…

Five@5.00 - One technique that opens doors to a variety of opportunities to direct the white space is what we call Five@5:00. This technique is perfect for the time-strapped employee. It connects a simple behavioural change technique with a powerful process to enable learning and reflection for continuous improvement and growth. In its purest form, Five@5:00 is about shaping mind-sets and directing actions in a purposeful, process-oriented way.

Watch the video to better understand this simple and powerful technique.

Other simple suggestions include:

  • Inspire growth and development. Launch a campaign to all levels of managers directing them to ask this question as part of their weekly one-on-ones: “What did you learn in the last week to get better?” Of course the managers have to model the process and answer it too
  • Encourage “three cups of coffee.” Ask every member of the team to have coffee (a short meeting) with three people outside of their work group to get ideas on your key projects. Think of the group exchange and insights you can garner. Host a meeting devoted entirely to debriefing and discussing what team members learned with the objective of putting one idea into practice
  • Suggest resources — books, videos, articles. Invite people to share their reactions

Regardless of how your organization chooses to direct the white space, remember that individual accountability is the key to success of the process. Individuals must believe that their efforts align to a greater purpose — that their own leader(s) believe in the practice, are utilizing the practice themselves and have set clear goals that align with the organization’s own mission. This includes time for personal renewal and opportunities to take breaks and deploy these moments in our own way.

For more insights on how organizations can refocus leadership development by moving from programs to process and directing the white space, read this whitepaper.


1 Citation: Leadership: State of Leadership Development 2015: The Time to Act is Now by Laci Loew. Brandon Hall Group, 2015.

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Topics: Leadership Development, Leadership

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