About $350 billion a year is spent on leadership development, but many companies aren’t getting much bang out of their buck. Studies indicate that lots of senior executives don’t think the next wave is prepared well enough to assume larger leadership roles.
With many companies in a transitional phase, either due to people retiring or radical changes prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, having ill-equipped leaders taking over can compound problems. Some businesses will suffer if they don’t make major changes in how they develop leaders, says Jennifer Mackin, ForbesBook author of Leaders Deserve Better: A Leadership Development Revolution and a leader of two consulting firms.
“With baby boomer leaders nearing retirement, there are fewer people in the workforce that are capable of doing the work required,” Mackin says. “Generation X has smaller numbers of people and hasn’t been invested in leadership development like boomers have.
“Many CEOs complain that their people aren’t ready to lead into the future. The source of the problem is leaders don’t know what to do differently to strengthen their people.
A leader’s primary role is to coach and to create an environment that perpetually develops new leaders. There are ways they can refocus on that.”
One of those ways, Mackin says, is for executives to align business strategies with their people strategies. She offers these tips on how senior management can link the two and develop leaders in the process:
- See the need to prioritize people strategies. Strategic plans, Mackin says, must address more than the financial component. “Too often CEOs and senior leaders put their people at the bottom of their strategic plans and fail to connect their business strategies with their people strategies,” Mackin says. “People are the most integral component of your strategies. If you decide, for example, that your organization will enter new markets, you have to connect that objective to your people. Maybe you will need 500 new people or 10 new leaders with certain skills to achieve your objective. How do you prepare for that?”
- Know the key components of a people strategy. “Your people must fully understand the business plan for the next one to three years,” Mackin says. “Broad strategies for people have been identified to execute the business plan. There’s a plan for succession for all key roles. Gaps in knowledge, skills and abilities have been identified, and an overall development plan for the organization’s leaders addresses those gaps. Once you have the people strategy, companies can acquire the right talent based on well-defined roles, measure the outcomes, and adjust the plan as needed.”
- Continue to scrutinize leadership readiness. These are questions CEOs must ask regarding where both their business and their leaders are today – and how to get them where they need to be tomorrow. “This must start with a plan that compares current state to future state,” Mackin says. “What are the gaps and how are you going to fill those with business and people strategies?”
- Build a clear line of sight. Once the alignment is determined, Mackin says it must remain in sight for all leaders and their direct reports. “The leader knows where the organization is going, and direct reports understand their role in getting there,” Mackin says. “A clear line of sight means there is a connection between leaders’ objectives, the business strategy, and individual contributors’ work. It is also important for direct reports’ engagement and feeling of purpose that they understand exactly how their work and objectives add value to the business.”
“All senior leaders should be involved in the business strategy and people plans,” Mackin says. “It is critical that executives prioritize the development of leaders who can drive strategic change.”
Jennifer Mackin is a ForbesBook author of Leaders Deserve Better: A Leadership Development Revolution, and a leader of two consulting firms – CEO of Oliver Group, Inc. and president and partner of Leadership Pipeline Institute US. As an author and speaker with over 25 years of consulting experience, she is a recognized leadership development influencer, having worked with CEOs, human resources managers, leadership development leaders, entrepreneurs, and other senior leaders in healthcare, hospitality, distribution, government, manufacturing, higher education, banking, financial services, and social services. She earned her BS in marketing from Indiana University and her MBA from Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University.