How to Explain Leadership Development to a 5th Grader (A Leadership Development Glossary)

All occupations will develop their own special jargon. It’s one of the ways we “professionalize” the unique work that we do in order to sound and feel important. That’s all well and good, except when:

1. You’re new in the field and don’t yet understand the jargon;

2. You’re not new in the field, but you still don’t know the jargon, and you find yourself pretending that you do;

3. You need to work with someone outside of your profession and explain things to them in everyday language.

To help with each of these scenarios, I’ve created a handy guide to the most common leadership development jargon using everyday language. I’m sure I missed a lot of important terms, so please add your own in the comments.

Assessment: As a verb, it’s some way of measuring the ability, personality, potential, motivation, or some other aspect of an individual. As a noun, it’s often some kind of instrument, or test.

Action Learning: A type of leadership development program where participants work on real projects and learn at the same time.

Bench Strength: Used in succession planning, a measure of how strong or weak an organization’s succession plans or talent pool is.

Blind Spots: weaknesses that an individual is not aware of.

Competencies: Knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs).

Competency Model: A collection of competencies that describe what it takes to be successful in a specific role – i.e., the “right stuff”.

Coaching: A way to help someone learn and develop by asking questions that provide insight and help them come up with their own answers.

Executive Coach: Someone who specializes in coaching executives.

Feedback: Information about someone’s performance or behaviors that they get from others.

360 Degree Feedback: Feedback from an individual’s manager, employees, and peers.

High Potential (HIPO): Someone who has been identified as having potential to be successful in a larger role, usually a senior management role.

Individual Development Plan (IDP): A plan on how someone is going to learn new skills in order to be better at what they do or get ready for a future role.

Multi-rater Feedback: Feedback from more than one person.

Nine-box Matrix: Also referred to as a Performance and Potential Matrix, it’s a 3×3 grid used to assess individuals on their performance and potential. It’s often used as a part of a talent review meeting.

Organizational Development (OD): Sorry, there is no way to explain OD in simple terms. In fact, OD professionals usually can’t agree on what it really means. (-:

Pipeline: Same as “Bench Strength”, i.e., “we have a weak leadership pipeline and need to do some leadership development”.

Stretch Assignment: Giving an individual something important to do that they’ve not done before as a way to develop them.

Subject Matter Expert (SME, or “Smee”): Someone who knows a lot about something, i.e., “we need to find some smeeze to help us develop this leadership training program”.

Succession Planning: Figuring out which positions are critical to the success of an organization and identifying individuals who are ready or could be prepared to fill those roles. Sometimes referred to “hit by a bus” planning.

Succession Planning and Development: Once those individuals are identified, actually doing something to get them ready. The development part is often overlooked.

Talent Management: How an organization goes about hiring, developing, and retaining great employees.

Talent Profile: An internal resume used in succession planning.

Talent Review Meeting: A meeting where a leadership team discusses the strengths and weaknesses of individuals within their organization. Usually done within succession planning to identify high potentials, using a performance and potential matrix or other assessments.

You pass the test if you can explain that entire last sentence to a fifth grade class. Or a CEO.

Anything to add to the leadership development glossary?