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Bringing Focus to Your Leadership Development Programs

By Rich Wellins, Ph.D.

Richard S. Wellins, Ph.D.

McKinsey recently shared new research on four types of leadership behavior that directly relate to organizational performance. They start the article by criticizing typical leadership development programs for trying to tackle too many issues (what we might call “spray and pray”). So, they set about trying to determine which behaviors, from a list of 20, really matter.

McKinsey's methodology began with a survey of 189,000 people in 81 different organizations asking respondents to indicate how frequently certain types of leadership behaviors were displayed in their organization. Then they divided the sample into the top and bottom quartiles using scores from their Organizational Health Index. The index correlates strongly with company financial performance.

The surprise finding? Four out of 20 behaviors accounted for a whopping 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak performance. Here are the behaviors, excerpted from McKinsey’s article:

Bringing Focus to Your Leadership Development Programs
  1. Solving problems effectively involves gathering and analyzing information.
  2. Operating with a strong results orientation deals with the ability to drive and follow through to achieve results.
  3. Seeking different perspectives is about encouraging involvement of employees and other stakeholders to both gather new points of view and avoid biased decisions.
  4. Supporting others tops the list. These leaders “understand and sense how other people feel.” They also “build trust and inspire colleagues to overcome challenges.”

If you buy into these top four, the questions at hand are two-fold. First, how are your leaders, at all levels, performing in these key areas? DDI has collected a considerable database of assessment results across different countries and leader levels (including assessment centers, personality surveys, and 360°s). Our initial read would tell us that you have a 50 percent chance or less of having leaders who are capable in all four McKinsey areas.

The bigger question is: What can you do about it? Not all behaviors are easily trainable, but you have one thing going for you. The four high-impact McKinsey behaviors are developable with both time and practice. For example, we have been training leaders extensively in the skills essential to supporting others and seeking different perspectives. Two newer DDI learning experiences, Driving Innovation and Translating Strategy Into Results, also match up with the four high-impact behaviors. Best of all, we have measured and seen positive change in many of the skills associated with the four high-impact behaviors.

For more detail, read McKinsey’s article, Decoding leadership: What really matters.

Rich Wellins, Ph.D., is a senior vice president at DDI.

Connect with @RichWellins on Twitter Twitter

Posted: 17 Feb, 2015,
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