To effective apply and integrate leadership development learning, the participant and their manager must both be involved. There are three best practices to make this happen. One, engage the manager in the program; two, teach the manager to coach on leadership; and three, share accountability for the ongoing development work.
We believe that the manager is the key ally in the activation of the participant’s learning. However, the norm for leadership development initiatives is quite different. Typically, these learning leaders come back to the business with new insight and tactics, but then urgency of the business barges in and despite all good intentions, their new insights quickly get shelved.
Coaching on Leadership Development Versus Coaching on the Business
Ideally, the leader is supported by their manager in their effort to integrate their learning in real time. However, that best case scenario is contingent on the manager’s ability and willingness to coach someone’s development, and this is a different skill than business coaching. In my 15 years as a leadership coach for fast-growing organizations, I know that coaching for lots of managers has never evolved beyond giving direction or advice. When you add the increasingly complex problems that businesses need to solve, it’s to be expected that these problems dominate conversations. Said another way, how much time do you spending working on the business versus in the business?
There are a few best practices that we live by at 1-degree and that we help our clients to adopt.
Engage the Manager from the Beginning
First, the manager must understand why they should spend their valuable time on this. Second, it must be easy for them to be involved. For example, show them the development plan and exactly when and where they will be involved. One specific way to do this is to create a triad conversation with them, their participant and the leadership development program facilitator to create alignment on what the participant is working on, why and what help they will need.
For the leader being developed, these kinds of coaching conversations are vulnerable. That’s because for the leadership development effort to be truly worthwhile they will have to reveal what they are learning about themselves, such as their strengths, weaknesses, limiting assumptions they hold, habits they are changing and where they struggle with the program. The high potential, high performing participants in leadership development programs are not naturally disposed to ask for help. They are used to making things happen. Since this is unfamiliar territory for both manager and participant, having the facilitator to help set the tone can increase everyone’s comfort level with the process and expectations.
Don’t Assume the Manager Knows How to Coach
A development coaching conversation is a vulnerable act for the manager as well. For example, it’s a more servant-style of coaching where they ask questions to which they genuinely don’t know the answers and then ask how they can help. This is different than the business coaching style where managers dive in with solutions. Managers will need some training on the difference and how to let go of their standard advice approach.
Include Some Accountability from The Manager
The participant should formalize a development plan with their manager. Encourage the participate to be creative and include some real on-the-job projects where they can apply their learning and stretch themselves.
Ideally, the manager should be accountable to the HR department for the leadership development outcomes of their employees. A good way to do this is to weave the participant’s commitments into their performance reviews, as well as in the manager’s reviews. The follow-up then becomes a shared responsibility with the HR department.
Create Multiple Sources of Accountability
We use Peer Action Learning sessions to help the participant sustain momentum. These are facilitated peer-group coaching conversations where small groups of participants from the same leadership development program connect to share successes, learnings and struggles. If done well, they are powerful forums that allow for real and safe dialogue. The participants return to work with energy and clarity.
A manager themselves shows leadership when they are involved in their employee’s leadership development. At 1-degree, we call this fearless leadership. It’s needed more and more as we are faced with increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity at work.