Investing in your leaders – 3 things you should consider to optimize your leadership development ROI

Does your leadership development framework equip your leaders with the tools and environment they need to succeed? You should be taking an active role in supporting your employees by implementing an integrated leadership program that engages participants and provides them with a safe space to grow and develop. 

Your employees are your biggest asset and a reflection of your company. Investing in them will not only improve employee engagement but contribute to the overall success of your organization.

Everyday organizations are asking people to act differently – to become better leaders: “Transition from Manager to Leader”, “Coach your team”, or “Drive accountability to everyone.” But are these requests being doled out without thinking through the support needed to ensure their leaders are equipped for success? Simon Sinek reminds us:

“The responsibility of a company is to serve the customer. The responsibility of leadership is to serve their people so that their people may better serve the customer. If leaders fail to serve their people first, customer and company will suffer.”

With this in mind, there are three things you should consider when searching for and evaluating a leadership program. Does the program provide:

  1. a safe space for leaders to learn, practice and revise leadership habits?
  2. an integrated approach that meets the needs of each individual leader?
  3. a mechanism to engage with the sponsor of the development?

In our experience, programs that embed these features will help organizations increase employee engagement and drive better business results such that they see a return on their investment.

Building Leadership Habits

When evaluating the learning outcomes of a leadership program, the focus should be on establishing habits (behaviours that are found in highly effective leaders) that once learned and practiced, become the ‘way’ the leader engages their team.

Critical to making a long-term change in habits is the ability to get feedback after leader’s have applied their new approaches in the workplace.

Here are a few habits your leaders should be able to exhibit once completing a comprehensive leadership development program:

  1. Align teams and individual work to organizational direction;
  2. Manage individual and team performance, set clear action plans and drive results;
  3. Empower others with the resources and authority they need to succeed; and
  4. Use effective communication methods to share and receive thoughts and ideas, give feedback and instruction, and increase employee engagement.

Individualizing the Approach

Many traditional workshops are structured to provide learners with the best practices for leaders and providing the tools or techniques to employ those practices.

What differentiates the most effective programs from the other programs however is a commitment to supporting each leader in their own application of the newly acquired habits.

Effective leadership programs will have built in very specific opportunities to acquire competencies, try them, reflect on the outcome, and try again!

This approach has been corroborated by data we’ve collected here at Stratford as well as a recent study from HBR where they state recommend that programs include time for participants to reflect on their coaching abilities:

“If organizations have more knowledge and training, they are able to provide a better self-assessment of their skills. Organizations should allocate time for managers to reflect on their skills and review what they have done. What’s working, and what they could do better?”

Getting the Sponsor Involved

Leadership development is an investment, and like any good investment performance needs to be monitored. As it relates to leadership development, the sponsor of the participants within a program (the participants manager, HR department, board, etc.) should be looking to see a return on their investment.

The best programs plan for and engage with the sponsor throughout the development process. This provides sponsors with opportunity to proactively observe, question, support, coach and provide feedback to the developing leader.

This type of engagement allows the sponsor to be an active participant in the leader’s development and gives them the opportunity to ask what they can do to allow the leader to best apply the newly forming habits in the workplace.

The Importance of Coaching

Let’s face it, most leaders got to where they are today because they are highly skilled in their functional area and have big bias for action. When they see something not performing optimally, they take action.

This very critical capability often then gets in their way of becoming effective coaching managers and has them asking “Why coach someone to do the task that I can solve more efficiently?

Although I initially mentioned three things to look for in a program, if you’ve got leaders transitioning from super-doer to leader the fourth and final question to you need to ask is

  1. Will the program help your super-doer transition to super-leader?”

To illustrate, this is one of the things Stratford’s Leadership for Success program does really well, and participants and organizations have seen some really great successes.

On day one, we collaborate with the group of participants to lay the “ground rules” for coaching in their own organization and how coaching differs from other types of leadership behaviour.

With a firm understanding of coaching, participants get a triple dose of practice:

  1. they are being coached,
  2. they are given opportunities to coach each other,
  3. all while learning the competencies needed to be a highly effective coach!

The time and coaching built into Leadership for Success has paid off for participants and reflects the findings of HBR article I talked about earlier.

Leadership for Success participants tell us that their confidence to meet the expectations of their role has risen 30% over the time of the program itself. Thus, supporting Harvard’s findings that, by allocating time for managers to reflect on their skills, reviewing what they have done, what’s working, and what they could do better leads to better overall outcomes.

Make the Investment

As you look for a program to develop your own leadership habits, or the habits of leaders on your team, be sure the programs you’re investigating have built into their curriculum:

  1. A safe space to learn;
  2. An integrated and individualized approach for each participant;
  3. Sponsorship involvement; and
  4. A focus on coaching.

These programs will have the greatest ROI and will ensure your leaders, your teams and your organization are equipped for success.

If you’re interested, Stratford’s Leadership for Success program was developed and created specifically with these considerations in mind. It’s customizable development experience for each participant features our award-winning leadership development workshops, innovative micro-eLearning, and interactive group coaching.

About the Author – Dean Fulford, Leadership Development Practice Lead, Stratford

Dean brings more than 20 years of experience and a deep expertise in leadership development, organizational development and design, project management, process mapping, and best-practice benchmarking activities. With an extensive background in organization development and effectiveness, performance consulting and process improvement, Dean compliments his HR background with strong process management and competency-based project experience. With an Engineering degree he brings a high technical aptitude to his engagements that make him a credible voice with deeply technical clients.

He is a member of Stratford’s Leadership team, responsible for its Leadership Development practice area, bringing both product innovation and operational effectiveness to these services. Dean has held HR Executive roles in high technology and financial services firms, responsible for design, implementation, and oversight of organizational development, effectiveness and human resource programs at both the local and global levels. Dean’s particular areas of expertise include:

  • Leadership development strategy and program development
  • Instructional design and facilitation; talent management program design and implementation
  • Process design and project management
  • Driving pragmatic, metrics-driven solutions