How Science Based Leadership Development Enables Better Management

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  • Date

     February 1, 2019

How Science Based Leadership Development Enables Better Management

Recently, a client told me that he was watching one of his kids’ soccer games when it dawned on him: the kids on the team get more training than his company provides for its leaders. “I’m responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of business,” he shared with me, “yet nobody has ever formally trained me on how to be a leader.”

In my role as a management consultant, I’ve often seen companies take a relatively random and unstructured approach to leadership development. In many cases, the assumption seems to be that if the organization’s leaders have the right certifications and tools, that should be all they need to do their job.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the outcome I typically see is that leaders make sporadic, event-based improvement. There’s generally little or no real alignment created between the leader’s preparation and the organization’s overarching business goals and objectives. As a result, there’s often a lot of chaos, busy-work, and backsliding … and most significantly, they’re unable to hit their goals.

A More Rigorous Approach to Leadership Development

Science based leadership development takes a more formalized, structured approach to leadership development. It is designed to create a structure for the leaders, guidance on ways for them to interact with that structure, and then experimentation at the process level, with multiple iterations aimed at making daily improvements.

When we help clients to do this, we often start by asking them to talk about what their leaders are doing for the organization, how well aligned they are with the corporate goals and objectives, and what their day-to-day structure looks like. In most cases, clients have identified problems in each of these areas. We then create an approach to leadership development that is more intentional and structured, and generally comprised of three elements:

  1. Structure — One of the most critical parts of the process is determining how well-aligned leaders are with corporate goals and objectives. This determination involves identifying not only what the leaders are trying to achieve, but also what tools and processes are being developed to create a structure that they can interact with. Examples can include the leader’s daily meetings, the checklists they refer to, and any other resources or processes they use to lead on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Interactions with the structure — The next component of our solution is to assess and coach leaders on how to more effectively interact with their decision-making structure. Our focus is on helping them embrace and rehearse the types of new practices and routines that will allow them to engage with the structure more effectively.
  3. Science based leadership development — The third step is helping the leader start to scientifically iterate improvements to their day-to-day processes that will better align with the organization’s goals and objectives. Allowing this experimentation with processes can show the way forward far better than merely relying only on one’s own mindset or instincts.

I’ve unfortunately seen many companies fail, primarily because they try to get immediately from point A to Z. Instead, science based leadership development emphasizes taking smaller, incremental steps. This approach works in part because it leads to better and more consistent results. It can also reveal a lot of ‘golden nuggets’ along the way — insights into ways people and processes interact that can, in turn, lead to other process improvements and greater buy-in.

A specific process to follow that I have found works well is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model. Following this iterative, four-step process allows leaders to focus on understanding and eliminating the gap or obstacle that they’re currently running into. They can then define a particular step or experiment, perform the experiment, evaluate the results, and decide on their next course of action. With each iteration, their approach to leadership is refined and also aligned more closely with the business goals of the organization.

Never Stop Improving

The key takeaway is never to be completely satisfied with how you’re managing your organization’s leadership development. When you treat it as an iterative process, you can keep going back and improving it. Science based leadership development is really about aligning your leaders with what the organization is striving to achieve, and then creating the structures, daily routines, and patterns that will help them to keep your people working toward those same goals.

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