By Chuck Cosentino, Ph.D.
Blueprints for leadership success are most useful when they are defined in behavioral terms—the “how to” of leadership behavior. Blueprints should also include experiences, knowledge, and personal attributes critical to success. Once developed, these blueprints become invaluable roadmaps for leaders, selection decision-makers, and those responsible for leadership programs.
Here are the four most critical steps in defining a leadership blueprint relevant to your business context and critical career transitions (the fault lines). With the right planning these blueprints can be developed in a few months or less.
Focus on understanding the business
HR leaders should engage successful line managers in discussing the business challenges they face. Line leaders live the business challenges, and can describe implications for what leaders at various levels need to do to enable the organization’s future success.; These discussions of business challenges can focus on a specific unit or function, or the entire enterprise. During these discussions, HR leaders should also share insights about the VUCA world and their implications for leadership talent practices.
Place immediate business issues in a broader context
Ensure the discussion does not focus only on one specific issue or challenge that is immediate and urgent. This leads to “flavor of the month” programs that fail to fully address all critical business challenges. Programs with a narrow focus on an immediate problem can prove costly, disruptive, and, all too soon, outdated. For example, when there is critical change in business focus or a new sales approach is introduced, organizations may spend valuable resources on developing skills related to leading and managing change and may neglect building skills for coaching and delegation at lower levels, and skills for building organizational talent and establishing and executing business strategy at higher levels. Over time the limitations of a singular focus are revealed and found to be inadequate, especially for leaders new to a transition. I have experienced too many conversations with prospects that begin with, “Last year we had to focus on _____. This year we will need to focus on _______. Therefore, we need to revamp our (assessment and development) programs.” This is a very costly way to operate. Immediate problems need to be dealt with but in the context of a blueprint that addresses all of the major challenges.
Focus on line leaders' true expertise
An organization’s line leaders are not experts in defining leadership competencies. They are, however, experts in the business challenges the organization’s leaders must address. This makes it important to avoid asking line managers to define the needed leadership skills. The result often is blueprints that are directionally correct but fail to provide the “How to”—the key behaviors that enable leader success. What’s more, these blueprints are typically too vague to guide the direction of leadership programs. Also, it’s wise to avoid asking line leaders to pick from a list of competencies. This often leads to an unworkably large number of competencies, and the resulting blueprint will lack clear links to critical business and cultural strategies and challenges.
Be an expert in the "how’s"
Use the information obtained from line leaders about business and cultural challenges to develop leadership blueprints that have a workable number of competencies, personal attributes, and the most role-relevant knowledge and experiences. The competencies clearly define the “how to” of the leadership needed at critical career transitions to ensure future success. Leadership blueprints linked to an organization, function, or business unit’s business and cultural challenges help immensely in demonstrating to all stakeholders—from executive sponsors to participants—the value of investments in leadership programs.
In many organizations I have found that when these analyses are done across multiple levels a cascading set of blueprints identifying critical similarities and differences across levels can be created. This is immensely valuable in targeting more strategic and impactful HR investments. Such blueprints yield integrated leadership programs that work in concert to accelerate growth that makes a real difference in enabling leader success more rapidly and effectively when growth is most critically needed. When working in concert, leadership capability-building programs and activities can make a critical difference in an organization's success.
Chuck Cosentino, Ph.D., is Executive Consultant, Talent Diagnostics Solutions, DDI.
This blog has been excerpted from the article: A Perspective on Leadership Readiness.