You Need a Leadership Development Program that Starts at Day 1 – and here’s why

We wait too long to start leadership development. A 2016 meta-analysis of leadership development programs determined that most leadership development begins at age 46 AND leadership development almost always begins after someone is appointed to a leadership role. That makes little sense. Wouldn’t you rather have an employee that learns feedback skills or problem-solving or strategy at the start of their career, rather than at the end?

There are a number of other approaches to as-we-do-it-today leadership development that are illogical – here is a sampling, with the rationale for a “better way.”

  • Leadership development programs are generally short-term (one week, 10 months) and generic – leaving the individual to figure out how their new knowledge and skills apply to the work that they are doing.
    • You want a development strategy that integrates work with learning and outputs.
  • To be cost-effective, companies generally are selective about whom they will send through leadership development – sacrificing hundreds of capable individuals for the development of a few. Do you really want only a few people in your organization to be fully capable in their roles?
    • When leadership skills are integrated with regular activities and duties – starting on day 1 – the costs are minimal and absorbed daily, you don’t need a “special event.”
  • As leadership development is currently administered…ROI is iffy. If your organization has 15 individuals, in 10 different disciplines, who have gone through leadership development this year – how do you associate their output with the learning?
    • When the learning process is integrated with every worker’s role and responsibilities, you can easily connect output to increased knowledge and skill through various measure of productivity.

100% ROI 

Whenever I ask business owners and managers this question they are always a bit dumbfounded at the logic of it: Would you rather increase the capabilities and competencies of 15% of your employees? Or raise 100% of your employee’s skills by 15%?

If every employee made better decisions, took responsibility for problem-solving, communicated better with their colleagues and other departments, understood who their stakeholders were… and more “leadership skills”… the efficiency and productivity of your company would be boundless.

But that “training” needs to begin on the first day they walk in the door. Your company should have a 3- or 5- or 10-year plan for the development of every employee. It should include skills building in the role they were hired for as well as broader, more business-acumen topics like risk, finance, and strategy.

And most importantly – it should include exposure to all areas of the business. Too many poor decisions are made because HR doesn’t understand Ops, or Marketing doesn’t understand Finance. When individuals understand the “big picture” of how your company operates – and they make relationships with people in other functions – companies run more smoothly, efficiently, and profitably. But they need to develop those skills at the start of their career, not the end.