How to Create a Leadership Development Program
Tim Donnelly Inc.com Contributor
Looking to identify future leaders within your ranks? If you do it right, it could also boost morale, creativity, and spark the transfer of good ideas.
What kind of magic does the Walt Disney Company use to keep its large and sprawling staff of smiley, friendly, and competent workers all on the same page … and keep them all smiling?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the pixie dust. What’s actually responsible is a robust and internationally recognized leadership program that aims to carry on the virtues first established by Walt and Roy Disney 80 years ago.
“Our guests are more likely to return based on our interactions with cast members who are more prepared, more willing, if they have great leadership that supports them,” says Bruce Jones, the programming coordinator for the Disney Institute, which started as in-house training for Disney company staff and has expanded to offer training and development for outside organizations.
In other words, Disney learned quickly that internal leadership development was crucial to success.
What kind of leadership program is right for your business? Experts say internal development is often something that gets axed as businesses look for ways to save money. But they say overlooking the value of cultivating your own in-house talent can be a fatal mistake. Leadership programs help ease the chain of succession, make employees feel more connected to the business, and can transfer good ideas from one section of your company to the whole organization.
Creating a Leadership Development Program: Assess Your Goals
Before you start a leadership development program, you have to make sure your business has a clear vision and stated goals. It seems like a no-brainer, but experts say many companies discount this critical first step, which makes it harder to inspire new leadership.
“These questions cannot be taken for granted: what do you value and what do you believe in and what behaviors would you want to reward and recognize when people are observed doing it right?” Jones says.
A simple way to go about this is to ask yourself: What do we want our future leaders to accomplish? At Disney, for instance, there’s heavy emphasis on the interactions between its crew and customers, so that anyone who encounter an employee from the front-desk clerk to the ride operator walks away with a pleasant experience.
Mark Murphy, chairman and CEO of Leadership IQ, a training firm based in Washington, D.C., that has worked with GE, Time Warner and Coca-Cola, says there aren’t universal values that apply to everyone. The goals needed in a turnaround situation are different from the ones needed in a high-growth organization or a highly collegial, collaborative one, he says.
“One of things that hurts the leadership industry is the idea that there are 10 or 12 skills that magically work for everybody,” he says. “That’s not how the world works. It’s a variety of skills, a variety of styles.”
The goals and vision you create should also be believable, or you risk compromising employee trust. After all, the most successful companies create objectives that they can – and do – clearly act on, says Harold Scharlatt, a senior enterprise associate for the Center for Creative Leadership, a research and leadership-training firm based in Greensboro, N.C.
“At others, you’ll find it’s a little bit more of a poster than it is a reality,” he says. Another reason to embrace setting leadership goals, experts say: Treat it as a change initiative, and it can reprioritize your business strategy. People have to be willing to invest in new approaches to a job, and updating your company’s core goals is a good place to start.
If your business is still reeling from the recession, putting employees through leadership workshops can help re-motivate them, boost camaraderie, and create new challenges that have the potential to stimulate creativity.
Creating a Leadership Development Program: Identify Leadership Candidates
Identifying the employees best suited for leadership can be tricky, and theories vary on how to best identify those candidates within your organization. Disney focuses its development programs largely on promoting from within, and more than 60 percent of its management comes from its existing staff, Jones says. The company also keeps an informal, hands-off approach to its succession program by setting goals and then standing back.
“Those that we believe are going to be the great leaders in this organization are going to be the ones who rise above in this environment,” he says.
Other companies simply put their entire staff into development programs with hopes of making everyone more effective. But identifying the employees who bring the most energy, ambition and success into your company is a smart way to focus development dollars, says Tommy Daniel, senior vice president of PDI Ninth House, a global leadership development and consulting firm. While leadership training can potentially benefit every employee, some positions will only result in a small revenue bump for the whole organization, while other positions can garner a huge return, he says.
At the same time, you should be conscious that the best employees don’t always make the best managers, Murphy says. “The skill sets are about 180 degrees away from each other,” he says.
Murphy’s company sometimes recommends a “manager-for-a-day” program, where a promising employee can shadow or work alongside a manager to get a real sense of what their job entails. “It doesn’t take a six-month curriculum necessarily,” Murphy says. “Sometimes it’s a simple as identifying your best people and giving them the job and seeing how they perform.”
If it doesn’t work out, well, you saved yourself a promotion; if it does, you’ve got someone who is able to ease a bit more quickly into a new role.
Leadership instructors say an easy way to lose promising employees is to think that because you have no positions available, you have no need for staff development. “Your future leaders want to be developed whether you have a space for them or not,” Murphy says. “If you don’t develop them they’re going to go somewhere else to get developed.”
Tim Donnelly is a freelance writer and managing editor of Brokelyn.com. His work has appeared in Billboard, The Atlantic, Thought Catalog, and The New York Post. @TimDonnelly