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The DIY leader

The DIY leader

On-the-job experience is emerging as the best way of developing a strong team at the top, and a high-quality reserves bench.

How can organisations ensure that they have the right leaders in the right roles to deliver their strategies, and how can they develop their high-potential leaders of the future? Organisations commonly, and unsuccessfully, approach this twin problem by dealing with elements of the leadership jigsaw without seeing the whole picture. For example, they send important executives on expensive overseas leadership programs or run off-the-shelf training programs for middle managers but neglect some of the other crucial components of an overarching leadership development approach.

Alternatively, an organisation may actually have all the pieces of the jigsaw but fail to integrate them to deliver strategic outcomes.

The key to ensuring the right leadership at the top and the development of a leadership "bench" is to take a systematic leadership architecture approach.

The foundation of the architecture model comprises a management system and a set of leadership competencies. A management system that consists of articulation of the organisation's vision, mission and values provides employees with clarity on the strategic direction of their organisation. Developing leadership competencies means having to decide what is meant by leadership.

Most senior executives agree that their organisation requires more leadership. But in what form? Here, the common mistake organisations make is that their competencies resemble laundry lists. Instead, they should focus on a simple set of core competencies which can be easily communicated to employees.

The next part of the architecture is a clear leadership development philosophy - in other words, how to develop leaders.

A general consensus seems to be coalescing around what is termed a 70-20-10 approach. Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger, previously of the Center for Creative Leadership in the United States and authors of The Leadership Machine (Lominger, 2002), argue that 70 per cent of leadership development comes from on-the-job experiences, 20 per cent from feedback and learning from others through mentoring and coaching, and only 10 per cent from learning programs.

The implications for leadership development are clear. Training courses are not the core requirement of leadership development but need to be integrated into wider processes of feedback and structured experiences.

Given the centrality of experience to leadership development, organisations need to establish systematised processes to ensure that important leaders and high-potential executives are exposed to appropriate on-the-job experiences, including targeted transfers, rotations, special projects and promotions. They receive the right experience at the right time, enabling them to move up the organisation or expand their competence.

Organisations then have to focus on two related processes: Ensuring the quality of top leaders and focusing on expanding the leadership bench.

The first can be called "getting it right at the top". This means identifying and placing the best leaders in the appropriate leadership roles in the organisation and ensuring their continued growth. Individual development plans are set up and monitored to ensure that senior leaders are ready to develop their roles for the next three to five years.

The second process - "accelerating high-potential development" - enables organisations to identify those who could go a lot further and accelerates their development. The outcome is an expanded cadre of potential top leaders from which to fill senior vacancies.

The leadership architecture is not complete without measures of success. How does an organisation know it has been successful?

Possible metrics include the percentage of senior leaders evaluated as "fit" to deliver future strategic growth (right people in the right roles) as well as a high ratio of ready high-potential successors for senior roles (bench strength). In addition, organisations need to focus on retention plans for senior leaders and high-potential candidates, and on ensuring individual development plan compliance.

If organisations follow this systematic process, they can get to a situation where leadership development aligns with strategy, succession planning is linked to high-potential development, and performance management aligns with development planning.

The result is the best possible cadre of senior leaders underpinned by a strong bench of future leaders.

Paul Kirkbride Professor Paul Kirkbride is Associate Dean, Executive Education, at Melbourne Business School.

Fairfax Business Media

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