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Leadership Development Needs More Podium Results

By Bruce Watt, Ph.D.

Bruce Watt, Ph.D.As a sport-loving Australian living in London, I have recently needed to suppress my patriotic rivalry and humbly admire Great Britain’s relentless ascendance of the medal count at the Rio Olympics. Sadly for me, it was matched by Australia’s descent.

Great Britain’s Olympic success has been built over the last four Olympiads through sustained investment and focus on talent and performance excellence. However, it would be wrong to say it is just money that has delivered Olympic podium results. As the superbly successful British cyclist Victoria Pendleton recently reflected, “Great Britain has needed to learn “how” to invest its money in sport.”

This has taken time, and it has been both the longevity of the investment coupled with an indefatigable energy and a bold competitive determination to continually question, experiment, implement evidence-based change, and evolve that has been the real story behind Great Britain’s Olympic success.

Investing for leadership results

Investing for leadership resultsI’ve noticed some interesting parallels with the efficacy of how companies develop leadership excellence. Most large multinational companies have been investing for more than a decade in developing a bench of leaders that are better prepared to execute the company strategy. These companies often have well-established high potential identification and development programs, a department of knowledgeable subject-matter experts in leadership development, and a governance process for reviewing leadership talent. In fact, everything seems in place except one critical factor—the outputs: a sufficient pool of leaders that are ready to be deployed to execute the business strategy.

This is why I frequently hear the frustration that “the outputs do not justify the inputs.”

How are organizations responding to their lack of results?

They often look for a new product or technology to identify, assess or develop leaders, or conduct a review of the succession process. And their investment in leadership development often fluctuates hugely year to year.

While all of these tactics are worthy of consideration (constantly, actually), organizations need to focus on what actually produces results. Let’s use Great Britain’s approach to Olympic success as a model. The longevity of their investment has been critical to their achievement.

But in the realm of business, too many corporate leadership development initiatives are episodic rather than a business process designed to deliver outputs: ready leaders over time.

If one key to victory for Great Britain has been an ability to create energy and boldness in its identification and development of successful Olympic athletes, then let’s learn from them and evaluate our leader succession and development approaches in this context.

A blueprint for how to do this is explained in DDI’s recently released book Leaders Ready Now. The book explains how more aggressive and bold approaches to success and leader development can deliver the outputs that justify the inputs!

Bruce Watt, Ph.D., is Managing Director, DDI Europe.

Posted: 02 Sep, 2016,
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