4 common mistakes companies make in leadership development

Leadership is the biggest talent issue today, according to a survey from Deloitte.

The survey revealed that only 13 percent of companies do an excellent job of developing leaders at all levels. Advancement opportunities drive many employees, and in many cases, promotions are the only way to gain influence, pay increases, and other benefits.

It's risky for companies to invest in individuals who might leave, but if you don't make transforming strong workers into strong leaders a priority, you're giving your competitors an edge.

If they're investing in the growth of their people, they're gaining a distinct advantage — not only in terms of the effectiveness of their talent, but also in more attractive positioning in the hiring game.

For companies that understand the need for leadership development but don't know where to start, here are four common mistakes to watch for:

1. Playing catch-up

Many organizations invest in development only after feeling the pain of ineffective leadership. Rather than wait for new leaders to fail, provide promising candidates with proactive development opportunities. That way, you set them up for success before they take on new roles.

2. Lacking C-suite support

You can't lead without leaders, and development simply won't work without everyone on board. If any senior leaders view employee development as a necessary evil, it will be nearly impossible to align curriculum with current and future business needs. Explain that leadership development sends a strong message to stakeholders that the company is planning for the future by investing in the people who could become its best resources.

3. Casting too wide a net

Many companies spread resources too thin, communicating equal opportunities to everyone — regardless of their ability to take on leadership roles. It's tricky terrain, but by focusing on the critical few who show leadership promise, you can funnel resources for maximum change. While this approach isn't for every company, it's helped many make the most of their limited resources.

As you pinpoint potential leaders, communicate your goals and expectations for both participants and facilitators. Conduct assessments, establish mentors who will offer honest feedback, and make yourself available as a resource for individuals throughout the program so they can effectively transfer the new knowledge and skills to their day-to-day work.

4. Relying on classroom learning alone

Leadership development programs often revolve around intensive in-class experiences, with little or no follow-up in the workplace. Those classroom experiences must be applied to real-life situations to build leadership effectiveness, adding in consistent feedback from experienced mentors.

When leaders actively participate in developing others, they create a stimulating and healthy dynamic for the whole team. Choose strong, experienced leaders for support roles. This can eliminate barriers and set realistic expectations for leaders-in-training as they learn through coaching and role modeling.

You'll also have to assess your desired outcomes to determine whether insourcing, outsourcing or a combination is the best approach. Hybrid approaches tend to leverage the best of both worlds — the organization owns the process, while external subject matter experts can contribute where it makes the most sense.

With a solid leadership development program, your company can provide opportunities for employees to advance personally and professionally. You'll equip your team with the skills to excel in leadership roles you need to fill and drive long-term organizational success.

This article was co-authored by Renny Bloch, who is associate director of leadership development at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown, New York.

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