If you are an HR or leadership development professional, you have the benefit of an incredible wealth of resources to pull from in order to support your leadership and succession practices. This is like a photographer in the Grand Canyon at sunrise with one roll of film and little time before the magic morning light disappears.
How do they decide what to shoot before the day begins and the light has changed?
Today’s photographers mostly shoot digital pictures and have no limit on the number of shots they take. While this may seem like good news, photographers can waste time clicking away at the wealth of beauty around them and may miss the shot that matches their inner vision.
This is the same problem HR and leadership development professionals face when choosing leadership development solutions — too many options and only so much time to take everything in before defining a solution.
The best process for the photographer with a single roll of film is similar to the best process for an HR and leadership development professional when determining the most useful leadership development benchmarks, expert articles, books and blogs for inspiring your organization’s vision and approach to leadership development.
Context is basic and easy to undervalue
To reduce the potential flood of options, do not rush in with the latest leadership technique you recently read about, saw in a blog or heard from a trusted advisor. The temptation is there. You have an answer that sounds reasonable for what you are looking to enact within your organization. That is good news. But don’t stop there.
My photography mentor told me that, when you come upon a scene you want to take a picture of, go ahead and take it, then stop. Think about what compelled you to take that picture. Take time to look around you to focus on the elements that first inspired you. Now take additional photos until you have fully captured what originally excited you to take the first shot. I found my photographs taken after the preliminary shot were the award-winners because they aligned best with what I was looking to convey.
The same holds true for leadership development planning and leadership model design.
Take an initial picture
Before determining a leadership development design, you need to have a complete understanding of what you are hoping to create. Begin with the leadership development goals and issues you are looking to solve. While obvious, many leadership professionals operate from what they already know, believe it is sufficient and quickly jump to the answer.
Doing so is like reading the first and last paragraph of an article. You get the sense but not the depth.
Look around you for inspiration
Spend more time understanding the context of the leadership issues informed by local requirements aligned with overall strategic goals. The people closest to the problem are the first place to start, as they fathom the intricacies best and understand the dynamics in a way that is hard to appreciate from the corporate center. Learning from leaders who are already successful in the units you are looking to develop is often an excellent place to learn and benchmark against. In times of rapid change, even your most successful leaders may need a new guide, which you must provide for them.
After local and internal resource solutions for your leadership goals have been fully explored, focus on the gaps in the leadership development solution that still exist. This is when reaching out to publications, benchmarks, expert advice and an alternative point of view will provide the spark that’s required to make the leadership development design fully match your desired goal
Take more photos (time to test your leadership vision)
At this point, our leadership research default is often to read far and wide, digging deep into all the pieces we have stored on our hard drive (or in the cloud) for something that is a perfect fit. This is great for perspective but takes a lot of time and provides too many potential triggers to formulate a leadership design against.
By the time you find the perfect picture, the sunrise has gone or the leadership issue has changed, requiring a new perspective.
Instead, think about which elements are most relevant for the leadership development goals you are looking to create now. As you scan all of the resources, stop to consider what caused you to choose each of them. Compare them with your current context and future goals to focus on what is most relevant for your organization’s needs. This is a faster process and prevents you from choosing an exciting but inapplicable approach.
Like the photography shoot I described, allow yourself to consider multiple resources, but stop digging when you have matched what originally brought you there. If the picture does not correspond to what you know about your workforce and what they would most respond to, then keep sorting through your leadership resources to those that best meet your vision for the organization.
Communicating to stakeholders what inspired you about the leadership resource
My excitement about the pictures taken with my mentor’s guidance led me to share them with others. Do the same with your leadership vision by sharing with your colleagues and stakeholders early and often. Explain what excites you about the resource(s) for supporting leaders within the organization.
The stakeholders may critique the process, but as long as they are discussing your vision, all is well. You have begun to enroll them due to your understanding of their context and your description of why the approach will work, and you’ll draw them in with a compelling vision.
Leadership development design and strategy is a process that is meant to change as the organizational context does, so don’t stop at one picture. Keep sharing new visions with your team to continue choosing the best leadership resources that enable your leaders to learn and grow in an unpredictable world.
Bill Latshaw is a leadership and succession researcher and organization development professional. His experience comes from 20-plus years in consulting and research roles within Deloitte Consulting LLP, the Boston Consulting Group, Arthur D. Little and Innovation Associates Inc. Latshaw can be reached on LinkedIn..
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