As I’ve mentioned in many previous articles, it’s all too common for organizations to promote an A-player into management without any plan to help them evolve into their new role. This has always baffled me since most people tend to agree that management requires a very different and specific skill set, which the majority of new managers haven’t previously leveraged in their individual contributor roles. This forces many new team leaders and managers into sink-or-swim mode, and the unfortunate reality is that many sink, often with disastrous results.

Companies that wish to break this cycle will often begin by implementing a leadership development program. In this article, we’ll go over some guidelines for creating or selecting an effective program for new leaders.

 

1. Be clear about which skills you want to develop.

It’s tempting to say ‘leadership’ or ‘management’ under the assumption that these terms refer to a defined set of skills or behaviors. However, in reality, the skills a manager needs can vary according to their level of leadership.

In my consulting practice, which caters to small technology companies, I typically look at four levels of leadership:

  • Team leader – responsible for team performance, but often maintains a partial role as an individual contributor
  • Team manager – solely responsible for team performance, including hiring, firing, and budget
  • Manager of managers – responsible for the performance of multiple team managers, as well as coordination between teams
  • Executive – responsible for P&L as the head of a department, and also plays a role in overall company strategy as part of the larger executive team

Looking at this list, it’s clear that, while there is some overlap, different skills are required to be effective at each level. Unfortunately, organizations often fail to identify which skills are required at each level, which can create a problem when the goal is to develop, or even hire, an individual at a specific level.

Therefore, a key step in designing or selecting a leadership development program is clearly articulating the specific skills required, in order to ensure that the program matches your needs. Of course, it’s certainly possible that more than one program will be needed to match the requirements at different levels of your organization.

 

2. Ensure your programs match your culture and values.

Leadership development programs differ in their emphasis and focus. In addition to matching your needs (see above), the best program(s) for your organization will also mirror your culture and values.

For example, some organizations are highly team-centric, while others are more focused on individuals. Clearly, that distinction should play a role in determining which leadership development program is right for your company.

One way to evaluate this is to compare your list of corporate values with the proposed leadership development program and look for points of conflict and harmony. Obviously, what you’re looking for is a high degree of harmony, indicating that what is taught won’t bring employees into conflict with your stated values.

Another important cultural consideration is your timeline. For example, I work almost exclusively with tech start-ups that need quick results, so programs must be fairly short. In larger, more established companies, a two-year program that can present a more long-term perspective might be entirely appropriate.

 

3. Follow up after training with coaching and mentoring.

It’s common knowledge that people forget training. In the learning and development world, what we call the ‘forgetting curvewas identified as early as 1885. The concept is simple: over time, people forget what they have been taught. While the rate of forgetting can be contested, I doubt that anyone would argue that the forgetting curve doesn’t exist.

What the forgetting curve means is that if we want behavior to change permanently as a result of training, we must take steps to ensure that the new behavior can be practiced (and ultimately mastered) before it’s forgotten. In practical terms, this usually includes refresher training courses, coaching, and so on.

When it comes to leadership development, coaching is particularly effective. Generally, coaching allows an individual to figure out how to integrate the concepts they learned into their everyday world. This typically happens in three steps:

  1. Thinking about how the new concept or skill should be used
  2. Applying the skill to a real situation
  3. Reflecting on how well it worked and what should be done the next time

As you can see, a knowledgeable and caring coach can be invaluable in walking people through this process.

Another valuable aspect of coaching is accountability. After all, a new manager who is expected to report back with the results of their ‘experimentation’ with new leadership skills is much more likely to actually experiment!

 

Using these three guidelines doesn’t guarantee the success of a leadership development program, but it does help you sidestep some major landmines. If you’re considering working with a third-party provider, be sure to have a specific conversation to ensure you are compatible in these three areas. If you’re developing a program internally, considering these elements from the outset can save you a lot of time and effort down the line.