There’s nothing strait-jacket about leadership. There’s no one size fits all. Each organization has its DNA, competitive forces, and legacies. The lessons learned from celebrated leaders and their professed best practices may be completely inapplicable in a different corporate context and thus, may not produce the desired results if used as is.
Take General Electric, for example. The company started a leadership development program back in 1910 to train the next generation of corporate leaders. Candidates had to go through a tough selection process to get into entry-level programs at GE.
There are other organizations like GE, who are customizing leadership development to build a desirable leadership pipeline.
At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, John Kolb, VP for Information Services and Technology & CIO has a pretty good process in place. Called the Rensselaer Plan, all the company’s portfolios including CIO portfolios, are reviewed and leaders are suitably handpicked and aligned with the institutional mission and core values of the organization.
According to Daren Hubbard, Chief Information Officer at Wayne State University, organizations must have a nice foundation of some formalized support either from the HR organization in your institution or by bringing in outside resources to help form a sort of a baseline – using which you can work with your staff to augment and supplement what they need, based on what the challenges the organization is facing. “In this way, you essentially have a set of leadership core values instilled through the year, and throughout everything that you do,” he says.
Is there a benchmark that organizations can create internally which will help them develop and groom leaders?
At Wayne State University, Hubbard, along with his leadership team, provide their staff an opportunity to literally bounce ideas off to other more established leaders and have that framework of being able to try ideas out with someone, get some advice and then go and take that idea forward themselves.
“We try to see who’s successful at what they’ve attempted to do. And if those things are successful, we take note of that and if we have an opportunity to advance individuals career wise into management or just giving them broader responsibilities. We look at their success in those opportunities,” says Hubbard.
According to Brian Robertson, the co-founder of HolacracyOne, a company spearheading the development of the Holacracy method, leadership development has its limits. “Even when leadership development programs succeed in catalyzing vertical development for participants, those leaders often face significant developmental ‘drag’. Their organizational context limits their new capacity or even pulls them backward, so their own developmental shift is difficult to sustain individually and nearly impossible to spread organizationally, argues Robertson on holacracy.org
So what is the committed leadership development professional should do? “To really catalyze a whole-system transformation, they’ll need to broaden from just developing leaders to developing the concrete organizational system itself,” advises Robertson.
And that loops us back to the original question: how can we decode the organizational DNA and use it to customize leadership development?
“Identify and develop leaders who have the organization’s best interests in mind. You want to provide the organization with skills that are going to uniformly bring value,” says Kolb.
Create an environment where people want to learn from each other, which means that the younger folks can certainly learn from the people that are more established but the more established folks can certainly learn from the newer talent coming in that’s breathing fresh air into the organization,” says Hubbard.