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4 Ways to Help CEOs and Board Improve Their Leadership Development Process

If CEOs ask executives to grade leadership development efforts in their organization, they may be surprised, and somewhat disheartened, by what they learn.

When asked to assess the results of leadership development investments in their organizations, the majority of 7,500 respondents to a recent Korn Ferry survey rated them only “fair” to “very poor.”  

Perhaps most surprising, and something of a wake-up call for CEOs, respondents cited “lack of executive sponsorship” as the chief roadblock to leadership development success. In other words, it seems that CEOs themselves are standing in the way of progress.

“CEOs and other executives don’t feel that leadership development is generating tangible value, and likely because of a bottleneck that might be of their own making.”

In addition, just 17% of respondents—one-fourth of whom were C-suite executives and about a third of whom were next-level executives—were confident their organizations had the right leadership capabilities in place to execute on strategic business priorities.  

Bottom line: CEOs and other executives don’t feel that leadership development is generating tangible value, and likely because of a bottleneck that might be of their own making. The problem is not about investing financial resources—there’s plenty of that—but about ownership and accountability by the senior-most individuals.

If this message resonates with you, consider the following suggestions to promote rather than impede development efforts and reap the benefits.

1. Don’t think of leadership development as a stand-alone process. When most effective, the process is inextricably linked to the business strategy and crucial to its success. Too many organizations treat leadership development as an appendage—a “nice to have” rather than the essential element that it is. Strategic business needs will determine leadership profiles required, and development should be tailored accordingly. It’s all connected to a company’s business outcomes, and results need to be measurable, like any other critical business process, such as supply chain, marketing, finance, sales, etc.

2. Shift your mindset and that of the leadership team. The CEO and his or her team should be collaborating to create a deeply engrained culture of talent development—a joint journey, not a “to do” list item managed separately  by the CHRO. Just as the right fuel is required for an engine to work at maximum efficiency, so effective leadership development is required to ensure an organization has the skills and pipeline bandwidth to address any gaps required for organizational growth.

3. Leadership development happens in real time. While there are many excellent leadership development programs, they are not, in themselves, sufficient. The journey must carry over into the real world. Your business is the laboratory for leadership development, making it, in essence, a living case study that is continually unfolding. Leadership development creates the avenue to the business results you desire. It is less about judgment after the fact, and more about proactively building and supporting the right operating capabilities so that the odds of achieving desired outcomes are significantly increased for the organization and for the leaders themselves. Said differently, there should be an obvious and direct link between leadership development, activation of the business strategy, and what the leaders actually deliver.

4. Strive to become a leadership academy company to gain advantage. Think of effective leadership development as both an insurance policy on the success of your strategic priorities, and a valuable tool in recruiting and retaining the best talent in the market. (For companies that have the best leadership development programs, look at Chief Executive’s 2016 Best Companies for Leaders.) The highest potential executives are those who most want to build their leadership skills, expertise, and overall careers.

Moreover, instilling a leadership development culture will almost certainly give you a leg up on your competition. Our research indicates that leadership development is one of the most under-utilized levers for strategic change and creating a strong employer brand.

To achieve desired results, leadership development must be led by the CEO, and top leadership must continually send direct messages about its importance, model the right behavior, and remain engaged every step of the way.

While Korn Ferry’s research may not come as welcome news, it does generate important insights with clear, concrete steps CEOs can take to succeed—steps that will increase the odds of success, improve ROI, and ensure that the CEO is not part of the problem, but rather is key to the solution.

By Jane Stevenson Korn Ferry Global leader for CEO Succession and Vice Chairman, Board & CEO Services and Noah Rabinowitz, Korn Ferry Hay Group Senior Partner and Global Head of Leadership Development.



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