Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Creating a Leadership Development Program: Nine Essential Tasks

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Creating a Leadership Development Program: Nine Essential Tasks

Article excerpt

Empirical research supports common sense--leadership matters to an organization's effectiveness. Leadership skills can be learned; although learning on the job is too haphazard a way to ensure an organization's viability. A leadership development program (LDP) requires nine overlapping tasks, which should be managed by HR professionals. Each task answers a basic question: 1. What kind of candidates is the organization looking for? 2. What does it take to be a good leader in the organization? 3. How does one become a program participant? 4. How does the participant stack up as a leader right now? 5. What specific actions should the participant take to become a better leader? 6. In what ways is the LDP reinforced by other HR systems? 7. How can the participant's work group be part of the developmental process? 8. Is there a leadership succession plan? 9. Is the LDP giving a satisfactory return on investment?

It is axiomatic that superior organizations have superior leaders. Yet, broadly skilled leaders are in short supply. The time-honored way of learning one's technical specialty, and then somehow transitioning into supervision is not a reliable method for producing adequately trained staff. Most organizations need a vigorous and deliberate way to improve the skills of supervisors, managers, and executives. They need a leadership development program (LDP). Although costly, an LDP is a wise investment for a compelling reason-- well-led organizations tend to attract quality applicants, produce satisfied employees, incur less unwanted turnover, engender loyal customers, and yield impressive financial returns.

However, it is fair to raise a basic policy question in deciding how to ensure the organization is leadership ready: buy or build. Under the "buy" approach, the organization relies upon recruiting and selecting talented leaders from outside. This is a fast way to get skilled personnel with fresh ideas and obviates the need for erecting an expensive internal development program. The major disadvantages of not developing from within are a likely decrease in morale for those bypassed and temporary dips in productivity while new leaders "learn the ropes." In addition, unionized organizations may encounter additional resistance.

The prime advantage of building leadership talent, besides eliminating the disadvantages of going outside, are twofold. First, the organization gets to groom the next generation in line with its culture and strategic agenda. Second, the organization has greater control over the supply of leaders with the requisite skills, making strategic implementation faster.

The need for talented leaders exists, and on balance, it appears the benefits outweigh the costs of creating an LDP within the organization. The following plan provides an overview and detailed outline of the nine essential tasks for creating a leadership development program to help current and future leaders reach their potential in the service of organizational goals.[1]

Core Program Premises

Two premises, based on ample evidence, are at the program's foundation. First, leadership matters to an organization's performance.[2] Hence, an organization should concentrate resources on securing, developing, and keeping good leaders. Second, it is possible to develop leaders. Leaders may be born, but they are also made.

Several other premises guide this plan:

* LDP develops the whole person, not only one's skills at work. Many people can benefit from some aspects of the program. (In this respect, leadership development can be viewed as an organization-wide initiative, "operationalized" through the widespread use of individual development plans.)

* Most organizational members have opportunities to lead at work. Many people can benefit from some aspects of an LDP.

* Leadership is fundamentally a relationship between leaders and followers; the context in which the leader resides must be considered in creating developmental activities. …

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