This is part 8 of the 3×5 Leader Development Handbook. I encourage you to start with the introduction here if you have not yet.
In his book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni challenges readers asking, “how much time has been set aside for team building?” I echo this sentiment to leader development – how much time is being set aside for leader development in our organization?
Leader development is absolutely a process; it must occur daily, not in a day. As we’ve explored throughout this series so far, leaders need to create and maximize the types and quantities of touchpoints for leader development. On-the-job development, coaching, and feedback are great ways we can routinely develop our emerging leaders amidst our day-to-day duties. However, I believe it is also important to carve out dedicated time and space for deliberate leader development, where our people take a pause from the busyness of day-to-day work and focus on our collective leader development. This calls for formal leaders to create a leader development program (LPD) within their organization, which is the third method outlined in our 3×5 Leader Development Matrix.
Deliberate leader development programs primarily attend to the “new knowledge and capacities” and “reflection” components of the Leader Development Process Model that we discussed in part 4 of this series. Development program sessions can provide new knowledge and ways of thinking to our leaders, making them more equipped to lead and perform within the organization. Sessions can also support reflection, allowing our leaders to discuss, make sense of, and learn from our collective experiences.
Our LPDs need to be purposeful; we cannot merely take our peoples’ time for program sessions if they don’t actually make our growing leaders better. We first need to set the program’s goals and desired end state, which should be growing our leaders along our defined development domains from the Leader Development Matrix. By assessing our leaders’ developmental needs in-line with our organization’s domains, we can create a leader development program that makes our leaders, and thus, or organization better. Before diving into the details and logistics of an LPD, leaders must define their program goals and end state, and then backwards plan based off a needed or desired “leader delivery date” of skills and knowledge. This helps ensure sessions are integrated and build off of one another.
Development Program Structure and Style
Our development sessions can and should vary in their style over time. This keeps the program engaging for our leaders and enables different types of learning. Sessions can leverage different styles such as:
- Lecture: There is value in an experienced subject-matter-expert imparting their knowledge on the leaders in the organization. These are the most challenging in keeping the audience engaged, so leaders must ensure they are relevant, time controlled, and dynamic for our people.
- Workshop / discussion: Collaborative sessions best engage our leaders and also enables them to learn from one another. Workshops and discussions can allow our leaders to learn a new way of thinking then work together to apply it to the organization or their small teams. More specifically, we can use workshop-style opportunities to introduce a simple new way of thinking for leaders and have them diagnose the organization through that new lens. For example, leaders can teach Schein’s three levels of an organization (references here and here) and then have people diagnose the organization within those three levels, ultimately determining if our espoused values and beliefs are in-line with our enacted ones, and if our artifacts support them or not. Moreover, leaders can teach a new skill and use collaborative discussion for people to practice it within the workshop to demonstrate competence in this new area.
- Organizational reflection: I use this phrase to define how leaders can create dedicated time and space for our people to reflect on how the organization is collectively performing. For example, every quarter, I meet with my USMA Cadets to review how our company is performing during the semester; we meet mid-semester and end-of-semester. During these sessions, I ask specific questions regarding our espoused vision, goals, and priorities to have them assess our performance in those areas. The goal is for the Cadets to walk away from the session with specific ideas on how we can re-align or improve our progress towards those goals.
- Developmental relationship opportunities: Finally, leaders can fence off time and space for people to engage in deliberately development relationships such as coaching and mentorship. Leaders can make these types of relationships formal in the organization by establishing the relationships and then creating opportunities to meet. Leaders can designate peer coaching relationships and then create the LPD sessions for those pairs to meet, talk, learn, and reflect. The same can be done for mentorship relationships, which we explore in the next part to this Leader Development Handbook.
Critical Development Program Considerations
Some other important program and session details and logistics that leaders need to consider when developing our programs include:
- Define our audiences: Different levels of leaders need different types of development. Narrowing session audience members helps manage the session size and improves the developmental relevance to the intended people. Consider creating different developmental programs for different levels of leaders. For example, an Army battalion can create an officer development program, a mid-grade NCO program (E-5 to E-7 possibly), junior leader program (company-grade officers and NCOs), junior Soldiers, etc. Managing a portfolio of development programs, then, requires leaders to carefully control the frequency of those program meetings to ensure sustainability and quality.
- Frequency: Find a session frequency that is effective and sustainable. Depending on your audience’s size and level(s) within the organization, consider weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or even quarterly. Ensuring the frequency is sustainable is vital for the program’s success and quality. But, considering minimal possible time windows between sessions is important for team building and improving the organization’s collective development and identity. Balance is key.
- Location: Ensure your selected meeting location supports the type of session. An auditorium may work great for a developmental lecture, but would be not ideal for a workshop where people are trying to collaborate. Ensure your venue supports the session’s needs. Moreover, consider conducting sessions off-site from work. This helps reduce work distractions, keeping people focused on the deliberate development at hand. Off-site sessions at the end of a work day can further support social gatherings after adding an important social component to the development.
- Who’s in charge: Consider rotating responsible teams and leaders who are responsible for the sessions. Having the same instructor for every session may bore leaders and limit learning diversity. Rotating other leaders and teams within your organization to lead these sessions becomes a developmental aspect in itself, forcing others to prepare, master certain topics, and teach. It helps spread the developmental wealth.
Other Helpful Considerations
Finally, I want to offer some last considerations for leaders as you design your own programs, which are based on my own experiences participating in and leading my own organizational LPDs:
- Leader and leadership development: As discussed in part 5 of this Handbook, there is a difference between leader development and leadership development. Just as in our other developmental methods, leaders must ensure we are attending to both types of development through their developmental programs.
- Understand the time requirement: Planning and preparing for developmental sessions requires a considerable time commitment from leaders. It demands that we define the session’s goals, create the session outline, conduct content research, prepare session products and resources, rehearse, schedule things like venues, and so on. Ensure you are able to dedicate the necessary time to make session meetings quality and worth our peoples’ time. This is why making session frequency sustainable is so important. More is not necessarily better if it compromises session quality.
- Ensure you communicate perspective: Because we created the program and the supporting developmental sessions, it’s easy for leaders to assume that our people understand why we are conducting these events and why we are talking on the selected topics. Leaders cannot assume our peoples’ contextual understanding for each session. We need to intentionally communicate the purpose for each session, showcasing how these fit within their overall development and performance as emerging leaders within our unique organizational context.
- Pre- & homework: To reinforce comprehension and provide application repetition, I encourage leaders to consider assigning pre- or homework before / after sessions when appropriate. This helps place added responsibility on our developing leaders, improving their stake in the session and challenging them to incorporate it into their performance after.
Remember, merely getting your leaders together in a room once a month does not equal leader development. However, it is an essential component to create deliberate time and space to best support the leader development process.
The next part to our 3×5 Leader Development Handbook looks at the final method in the Leader Development Matrix: mentorship. We will explore how leaders can best leverage these important relationships in support of their overall leader development process.
As always, lead well, friends!
The content and thoughts within this article are my personal views only. They do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Army or the United States Military Academy.
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