How to Create a Leadership Development Strategy

Have you been asked to create a leadership development strategy? Or is it about time you had one, even without being asked? Don’t panic, it’s a great opportunity, and it can be done!

Although every organization will have it’s own nuances, the following general framework has always served me well.
1. Identify the business challenges and goals.
The difference between strategic leadership development and managing a bunch of programs and processes is the extent to which everything is tightly linked to the business strategy. It’s a connect-the-dots exercise. Start with reading the annual report and any business strategy documentation you can get your hands on. Then, once you have a solid foundation, conduct a round of executive interviews. If possible, start with the CEO and talk to every member of the executive team. This could be done in groups to save time and promote discussion, but I prefer individual discussions. It’s a good way to build credibility and relationships when you are new to an organization. Some of my favorite questions include:
– What’s the biggest challenge facing this company in the next 3-5 years?
– What keeps you up at night? (although this question is starting to get a bit overused)
– Given these challenges, what new leadership & management competencies do you see as becoming more important? How would you assess our incumbent managers against these competencies?
This is not a simple training needs assessment. For that, you might want to send out a survey to all company leaders. I’ve seen training managers do a very good job with this, but then stop there and think they’re done. The problem with this approach is that individuals are often not aware of the high level strategic changes that are coming, and would not be able to self-select the most important competencies. There’s also a difference between giving employees what they want and what the company needs. Both are important – but if you want to be strategic, start at the top.
Given busy executive calenders, this process could take 4-8 weeks to complete.
2. Identify the implications for leadership development.
It’s taken me a while to get good at this step, and I’ve become to appreciate how important and how hard it can be. It’s a thinking exercise that is as much art as it is analysis. If you’re managing a team, this is a great discussion to have with your team and other key stakeholders.
There’s a lot of ways to get at this, but the fundamental question is – “How does business objective “A” influence how we need to go about developing our leaders? What new skills are required?” A simple example would be a company that is expected to double it’s growth in the next five years by expanding product line “B” globally. Obvious implications for leadership development include the need to develop and implement global leadership development processes and develop new global leadership competencies for product line B’s general managers. It’s not always that easy, so that’s where some healthy discussion and debate can help tease out the implications.
3. Create a leadership development vision and mission.
This step assumes you have a team that is responsible for leadership development. If not, you could skip to the next step.
A vision statement is an aspirational description of what the team would like to achieve or accomplish in the future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. Having a clear vision can give a team direction and inspiration, and be the foundation for goal setting and action planning.
A mission statement describes what you do, for who, and how. It puts a boundary around your team’s activities and helps guide their day-to-day direction.
Here’s an example: “Our vision is to have a leadership pipeline that is stuffed with “A” caliber leaders at every level of the organization. Our mission is to develop great leaders.”
See recent post, “How to Develop a Shared Vision Statement” for more details on how to do this.
4. Create a list of 3-5 year leadership development goals.
This short, focused list of long term goals address the implications and goals identified in steps 1&2, and support the team’s vision and mission. An example of a 3-5 year goal would be “Create a process to identify and develop global competencies in our product line B division’s general managers”.
5. Develop measures and action plans for each goal.
The creation and tracking of a handful of critical metrics is one of the most important and often neglected components of a leadership development strategy. It’s hard, but not impossible. See “Six Ways to Measure the Impact of Leadership Development” for details on how to do this.
6. Create a leadership competency model.
The same process used to identity implications and goals can be used to create a strategic leadership competency model. This model can be used as a way to align all of your leadership development processes and programs. See “How to Develop a Leadership Competency Model” for details on how to do this.
7. Review with key stakeholders to verify and modify.
It’s time for another round of executive meetings. This time, you are showing up about 3 months later with a draft document describing what you heard and how you propose responding. This is where you check for understanding, make modifications, and ask for commitment, involvement, and resources. I’ve often brought a second document that describes exactly what is needed from the CEO and each executive. It’s a bold move, but if you’re confidant and passionate in what you are proposing, it’s OK to go in with an “assumptive close” prepared ahead of time.
Follow these steps and you’ll ensure your work is strategic, relevant, and motivating. Who knows, you might even get to be a keynote speaker at next year’s big leadership conference. (-: