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3 Things To Stop Doing If You Want to Develop Leaders

Change requires us to learn, and learning requires us to change. This expression accurately describes the current state of leadership development. Leadership and the role leaders play in the workplace have changed significantly and continue to evolve. As a result, the way many organizations conducted leadership development training in the past no longer works. If you want to develop leaders, you must immediately stop doing these three things: 

Stop restricting leadership training to managers, and start developing the leadership competencies of all employees.

Years ago, when vertical organizations were managed by those at the top through layers of command and control, the term “leadership” was attributed only to those in higher-level positions. Only managers and executives were invited to participate in leadership development programs. 

In today’s flat and collaborative workplace, leadership is no longer about positions or titles. It’s about the ability to lead and influence others, including those over whom we have little or no formal authority. Nowadays, even individual contributors with no direct reports are required to lead projects and programs and influence colleagues and contractors. Doing so requires them to master and apply leadership skills, such as communication, coaching, and influence. 

Developing leadership capability at all levels will not only help your employees succeed, it will help your organization identify emerging leaders and create a talent pipeline for succession planning. Rather than waiting for employees to be promoted before training them to lead, train them to lead before deciding to promote them. 

Stop focusing on how leadership training is delivered, and start delivering a focused leadership development program.

Back when I was a learning and development leader at Disney, there was a company-wide push to convert instructor-led classes to e-learning. The theory was that asynchronous training would be less disruptive to the operation and produce significant financial savings, so most people jumped on the bandwagon. The new e-learning definitely proved to be efficient and cost effective. However, some converted programs failed to achieve desired learning outcomes. 

The love affair with e-learning continues, especially among Baby Boomers who assume technology is how Millennials prefer to learn. But Millennials don’t just want technology-driven training; they want good training. They want training that helps them master relevant competencies. If we want to develop leaders, that should be our primary goal, too. 


Stop training leaders to get more done, and start getting them to train other leaders.

Most people are of aware Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and its familiar pyramid. However, many who know the theory don’t realize the model has since been updated. Whereas the pinnacle of the pyramid used to be self-actualization, there is now an even higher level—transcendence. According to the updated hierarchy, those who want to truly reach the height of their own potential must do so by helping others achieve theirs. 

Applied to leadership, this updated hierarchy suggests that the most successful leaders are those who develop other leaders. And getting leaders to train other leaders, rather than merely training them to get more done, will not only benefit the leaders involved. Getting leaders to train, coach, and mentor other leaders will create a learning culture, increase organizational capacity, and improve overall performance. 

Leadership development programs should extend beyond those in managerial positions and help employees at all levels lead and influence. Whether those programs include instructor-led classes, e-learning, or some blended combination, our primary focus must be on effectiveness, not efficiency. And we should encourage leaders to teach, coach, and mentor emerging leaders. If you want to develop leaders but are not already doing these things, now would be a great time to start.

What do you think? Have you tried any of these strategies or have other best practices? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section, below.

© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
As a professional consultant, trainer, and public speaker, ASTD Links Field Editor Don Levonius draws on more than 15 years of leadership experience. He has directed talent development for 23 Disney hotels, 200 retail and dining locations, a large transportation system, a security division, an international college internship program, and a global professional association. Today, Levonius is principal consultant with Victory Performance Consulting, where he provides OD and talent development solutions that help clients do what they do best, only better. He holds a master’s degree in HR development and a second master’s degree in business and organizational security management.
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