Emerging Leader Programs
30 years of experience. Only 1 golden rule.
The third speaker at our recent seminar on emerging leader programs was Linda Bisnette, a greatly-respected 30-year industry specialist and Harbour Future Leaders (HFL) Senior Consultant, who addressed the topic from an interesting angle: What do the participants themselves think of these programs and what lessons can be derived for an organisation and facilitators?
In the last 10 years Linda’s passion has been listening to the people who go through the programs – a process through which she has learnt the one golden rule: unless you touch the hearts and minds of participants, all the ROI calculations, retention statistics, and planned outcomes of an organisation’s investment in leadership development can come to naught.
At the end of a ‘future leader’ program (that can run for up to two years) Linda uses a process of story-telling, where participants sit on a chair and share their often life-changing development journey. Profound insights are frequently experienced during these sessions and occasionally tears.
The first of the lessons learnt is that participants generally have no idea what to expect from a leadership program beforehand. So preparation work is required – individual discussions with participants to determine where they are in their lives, their readiness to explore their own potential, and that it’s OK to opt out completely and become a great technician instead, or to come back again next year.
The second lesson is that all participants want to be taught a quick formula or model that produces a good leader… BUT the only two factors that stand out from a review of 25 studies that good leaders have in common are (1) that a leader will listen to, and act on feedback (willingness to change); and (2) that they take responsibility for their own development; they are able to reflect and create clear development plans for themselves and others.
Lesson number three from participants is that the process needs to be a journey. It takes time and repeat exposure for concepts to be assimilated and internalised, specifically programs need to run for 15-24 months with at least three formal sessions during this period; people need access to a coach or mentor during the difficult times along the journey; and the best reinforcement of the learnings is for candidates themselves to become an assessor or coach for the next batch of emerging leaders.
The fourth area participants talk about is how the programs change all aspects of their lives not just the professional one… how every-day relationships improve. The numerous self-assessment exercises involved allow candidates to understand themselves better and to identify personal development objectives.
Other lessons include the need to involve and educate the participants’ line managers; the need to ensure visibility and exposure of the program across the organisation; the critical importance of homework and recall days where newly-acquired skills are demonstrated and discussed; and the importance of the networking component of the courses – how peer sharing can be invaluable in convincing resistors that doing things differently can work.
In conclusion, Linda re-iterated how winning the hearts and minds of future leaders within an organisation has an exponential spill-over effect on the rest of the firm. If facilitators get the process right, emerging leaders in key areas will teach other staff what they have learnt, really listen to their staff and to feedback, and the resulting changed behaviours will significantly impact outcomes for individuals and the business.
NOTE from the Editor:
Our thanks goes to Linda for sharing the invaluable feedback from participants of emerging leader programs.