leadership relationships
ATD Blog

Grow Leadership Through Relationships

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When RMA facilitator Susan Mosey worked with Medco (now Express Scripts) to build a leadership program, the goal was to grow leaders from high-potential managers. Each leader was required to have a succession plan in place and a successor ready before attending this workshop. The succession plan was the responsibility of the manager who wanted to be a leader, not the responsibility of HR or the manager’s supervisor. 

The three-day retreat was designed to be fully immersive (most participants stayed in the hotel hosting the event) and included a 360-degree assessment, DiSC and Workplace Motivators assessments, simulations, and one-on-one coaching. The participants also spent significant time with senior executives, including the CEO. 

The retreat was championed by members of the senior leadership team, which meant they attended sessions and committed to coaching each of the 30 people in each session for a month after the retreat ended. Different concepts were used to grow leadership, such as those from Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. A business simulator was hired to perform “typical” meetings to point out the lost productivity in the work day. 

Instead of training, the retreat encouraged leadership by challenging, sharing, and reframing, but the participants chose what they implemented. In much of this experience, they taught one another. Ongoing coaching and group cohorts created ongoing growth.

Leadership Development Needs More 


Leadership is grown through relationships; it is not a muscle that can be grown by yourself. In training classes, we measure success by post-class evaluations. If the learners aren't happy, there's trouble ahead. With leaders, seeing themselves in a mirror will likely be uncomfortable. Leadership interventions have to allow participants to struggle—that's how you grow. 

Leadership development is not an academic exercise. PowerPoint and e-learning modules may support some content knowledge, but they will not grow leaders. It’s a nice gesture to send your leaders to the local university for leadership courses or sit them in front of a leadership e-learning program, but if there is no knowledge exchange with peers and mentors, there is no performance change. Will the participants learn new information? Yes. Will they internalize it and change their approach to leadership? Not likely. 


For additional information on developing leadership skills, register for one of the Education Programs offered through ATD. 

Editor’s Note: Adapted from Lou Russell’s blog post “Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus.” Russell Martin & Associates, September 15, 2015.


About the Author

Lou Russell is president and CEO of Russell Martin & Associates. She is the author of the ATD Press books Project Management for Trainers, Leadership Training and 10 Steps to Successful Project Management, among other titles. In addition to her many books, she contributes frequently to Computer World, Cutter Executive Reports, and Network World, among others, and publishes Learning Flash, an electronic newsletter.

Lou speaks at several national and international conferences, such as the Project Management Institute, Project World, and LotuSphere. She holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Purdue University, where she taught database and programming classes, and a master's degree in instructional technology from Indiana University.

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