The development of leaders, we have concluded, is a contact sport.
The eight companies whose leadership development programs we studied were drawn from our own roster of clients over the past 16 years. Although all are large corporations, each company is in a different sector and each faces very different competitive pressures.
Each company customized its leadership development approach to its specific needs. Five of the eight focused on the development of high-potential leaders, and between 73 and 354 participants were involved in their programs. The three other companies included almost all managers (above midlevel), and involved between 1,528 and 6,748 managers. The degree of international representation varied among organizations. At two companies, almost all of the participants were American. Non-U.S. executives made up almost half of the participants in one company’s program. The other five had varying levels of international participation.
Some of the companies used traditional classroom-based training in their development effort. In each of these companies, participants would attend an offsite program and receive instruction on what the desired characteristics were for leaders in their organizations, why these characteristics were important, and how participants might better align their own leadership behavior with the desired model. Some companies, by contrast, used continuing coaching, a methodology that did not necessarily involve offsite training, but did rely on regular interaction with a personal coach. Some companies used both offsite training and coaching.
Along with differences, there were commonalities among the programs. Each company had spent extensive time reviewing the challenges it believed its leaders would uniquely face as its business evolved. Each had developed a profile of desired leadership behaviors that had been approved by upper management. After ensuring that these desired leadership behaviors were aligned with the company vision and values, each company developed a 360-degree feedback process to help leaders understand the extent to which their own behavior (as perceived by co-workers) matched the desired behavior for leaders in the corporation. All eight placed a set of expectations upon participants. The developing leaders were expected to:
Review their 360-degree feedback with an internal or external consultant.
Identify one to three areas for improvement.
Discuss their areas for improvement with key co-workers.
Ask colleagues for suggestions on how to increase effectiveness in selected areas for change.
Follow up with co-workers to get ideas for improvement.
Have co-worker respondents complete a confidential custom-designed “mini-survey” three to 15 months after the start of their programs.
Each participant received mini-survey summary feedback from three to 16 co-workers. Colleagues were asked to rate the participants’ increased effectiveness in the specific selected behaviors as well as participants’ overall increase (or decrease) in leadership effectiveness. Co-workers were also asked to measure the degree of follow-up they had with the participant. In total, we collected more than 86,000 mini-survey responses for the 11,480 managers who participated in leadership development activities. This huge database gave us the opportunity to explore the points of commonality and distinction among these eight very different leadership development efforts.
Three of the organizations permitted their names to be used in articles or conference presentations, enabling us to reference them in this report; the rest have requested anonymity, although we are able to describe their sector and activities. Two of the organizations also have allowed their results to be published elsewhere, without disclosure of the organization’s name. The companies whose programs we studied were:
• An aerospace/defense contractor: 1,528 managers (ranging from midlevel to the CEO and his team) received training for two and a half days. Each person reviewed his or her 360-degree feedback in person with an outside consultant. All received at least three reminder notes to help ensure that they would follow up with their co-workers.