By Bill CoyTuesday, June 28th, 2011
In the last 9 years, La Piana Consulting has had the opportunity to develop and facilitate long-term leadership development programs for senior and emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector. We have worked closely with our foundation clients to identify the most important and powerful elements of successful leadership development programs.
Leadership requires more than the confidence to stand up and offer to lead. In fact, there are three skill areas that must be built or honed for someone to truly claim the mantle of leadership.
You must have an understanding and appreciation of who you are as a person, and how you manage yourself. This includes:
• Knowing skills, limits, strengths, and competencies through realistic self-appraisal
• Developing control, self-regulation, and an ability to “live in the response, not the stimulus,”
• Understanding time vs. energy management
• Maintaining a deep commitment to personal and professional growth
• Having the ability to monitor and regulate self-efficacy
2. Understanding of Others.
Another key element of leadership requires your ability to connect and influence others. These skills include your:
• Capacity for deep listening
• Development of personal voice and an ability to influence others
• Aptitude to affirm, connect with, and correct others
• Ability to have difficult conversations
• High level of cultural competency
• Ability to forge and deepen interpersonal relationships
• Improvisational skills
3. Organizational Impact.
Leaders need to understand how to create and direct an organization beyond standard operations. These skills include:
• Understanding how organizations work
• Creating organizational engagement and alignment
• Building and directing teams
• Thinking strategically
Given these key elements above, leadership development programs require a combination of:
Self-reflection: participants must be given an opportunity to see themselves as others see them in order to build their strengths and minimize any weaknesses in their self-presentation, communication style, or other behaviors.
Peer learning and networking: sessions must include time for participants to connect as peers through both structured activities and exercises and through open discussion.
Hard skill development: participants must learn something new and useful during each session, such as how to manage a troublesome staff member, develop a personal performance plan, or more effectively run a board meeting.
Through research and practice, we have found that there are 5 essential program elements to build multi-dimensional leaders in a setting that builds hard skills, creates a strong peer network, and allows for self-reflection and personal growth.
The 5 essential elements of a leadership development program are:
1. Community. Both seasoned organizational leaders and emerging leaders achieve transformative learning when part of a community of peers. The shared experience of self-examination and skill development creates a sense of shared identity for moving forward together and a mutually supportive community to draw on once the formal program ends.
2. Context. The individuals in the program must be able to leave behind for the moment their organizational context in order to explore issues, solutions, and new skills that will help them to address their work challenges. In this way they will return to their organizational home ready to practice what they have learned. The workplace then becomes a real-life learning laboratory where new skills and confidence can be applied.
3. Clinic. Each time the learning community gathers “the clinic” provides a vital connection between practice and learning. Based upon case study methodology borrowed from the social science/educational/ disciplines, individuals have the opportunity to present a current issue or problem they find challenging. The community becomes a problem solving resource that sheds light on the underlying issues and provides an opportunity for problem-solving engagement for all participants.
4. Coaching. Strong leadership programs include assessment tools as well as qualitative feedback to build self-knowledge. Incorporating individual executive coaching allows each participant to translate data and feedback into actions to address weaknesses and reinforce strengths.
5. Curriculum. The curriculum must choose from among the wide array of topics and sub-topics related to leadership and management. Topics must inform and build upon each other while integrating solid, proven nonprofit management and leadership practices. The curriculum must also be applicable and understandable from a range of diverse perspectives and delivered in a manner that connects with adult learners.
We have used this holistic approach towards leadership development programs and learning communities from Honolulu Hawai’i to Fargo North Dakota. What elements do you think are most critical to a leadership development program?