Leadership development should start with ‘why’ – and this is usually not behavior change


Start with why, start with the end in mind and start where you want to end are all sentences pointing out that we need to start a program with the data that reflects where we want to end. For leadership development, it should be an impact, not a behavior. Let’s review the evolution of accountability in leadership development.

Liability changes

The non-impact app is just busy.

Decades ago, we wanted participants involved in leadership development to perceive content as valuable, important to them, and something they would try. Emphasis was placed on how participants responded to leadership development. Then the focus shifted to ensuring that leaders had the skills, behaviors, and competencies to be a good leader. The emphasis was on learning. About two decades ago, attention shifted to leader behavior. We wanted to make sure leaders were using the skills with their team, often measured with 360-degree feedback. With this, the focus was on behavior or skill application. Today, the focus is on the value that leadership development brings, or the real impact of leadership development. The non-impact app is just busy. The sponsors, funders and supporters of leadership development programs want what the behavior of the leaders will bring, not just the behavior itself.

To ensure leadership development programs end with impact, it is best to start with impact. The first step in implementing leadership development is to start with why: link the program to trade measures, identifying the impacts that will occur if the program is implemented and leaders use the behaviors or skills. But how is it done? Consider two scenarios.

Scenario 1: Everyone has the same business need.

Sometimes a leadership development program is implemented to improve the same business metrics for the whole team. These actions could include increasing retention, staying on budget, or reducing complaints from team members. If so, the starting point is these measurements for the participants (team leaders). Measurements are the “why” of the program. An important question should be asked of participants: “If you use the leadership skills offered with your team, can you improve business measurement?” “

Usually, leadership skills are powerful, important, and flexible enough to meet this challenge. For example, if there is a retention issue, the leader’s behavior can usually address retention if a lack of leadership development caused the retention issue. You want to make sure that business measurement can improve with the leader’s new behavior. This step is make it feasible: choose the right solution. Most of us have experienced situations where the leader’s behavior was implemented, but it was not the solution to the problem perceived by the organization.

Scenario 2: Participants have different business needs.

There are many leadership development programs implemented to address system wide issues and problems. Whatever function the participant is involved in, he may need new leadership skills. But the impacts are not the same for all these leaders because they generally vary according to the particular functions. A leader in accounting will have different impact measures than a leader in sales, logistics or IT. They may need the same skills, but their impact would be different. In these situations, it is important to start with the end in mind as a clear business metric identified by each individual participant. Each participant in the program would select one or two metrics from their KPIs that they would like to improve, but only if the metrics can be improved using the skills of the proposed program with their team. Leadership development is often flexible and powerful enough to take that leap. Once this step is taken, the leadership program becomes the right solution.

What is necessary

When implementing a leadership program, you have a choice. Where do you want to end the assessment as you move through the value chain, from reaction to learning, application, impact and return on investment? Today, the people who support leadership development and provide the budgets to make it work want to see the impact and sometimes the return on investment. This requires you to evaluate major leadership programs based on impact and levels of return on investment and to show effective use of funds.

If you would like to see a case study outlining the steps for delivering, measuring, and displaying ROI, please let us know.

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