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Creating the Right Context
for Leader Growth

Leadership Practices:
What’s Proven. What’s “Worth Less.”

Title: Creating the Right Context for Leader Growth

Tomorrow’s leaders face a more complex and ever-changing landscape, from digital disruption to inspiring a highly diverse workforce. To be effective, they will need to constantly learn new leadership skills while refining the older ones. In a recent study in the Leadership Databank that DDI completed with The Conference Board and RW2 Enterprises (Divergent Views/Common Ground), Millennial leaders (born between 1982 and 2000) gave high ratings to future skills like leadership impact, critical thinking, global acumen, and interpersonal adeptness. At the same time, additional research in our databank shows that leaders at all levels have a long way to go to master foundational behaviors required to succeed in these skills.

In the thousands of leadership systems DDI has helped implement, almost all pre-implementation conversations focus on the “what” part of the development equation. Data from needs analyses, 360s, and other assessment tools are gathered and evaluated; a curriculum or learning journey is designed; and it is implemented. As part of this process, discussions often center around the right change model, the learning materials and exercises, and the learning objectives.

Of course, as the practices discussed in this section show, selecting the right content is key, but what drives successful acquisition and use of leadership skills may depend more on what surrounds the content.

Best PracticeProven Practice: Employing Behavior Modeling Development Programs

Multiple aspects of leadership can be learned through reading, multimedia, presentations, and real experiences. However, a host of other leadership behaviors will only change a little by using these methods in isolation. Managing change, coaching, influencing, feedback and listening, and many others are behaviors or skills that need to be learned and practiced. From playing golf to cooking a gourmet meal, there are skills that need to be modeled, practiced with constructive feedback, and reinforced over time. The same methodology, known as behavior modeling, turns out to be highly effective in learning new leadership behaviors.

In a study aggregating more than 40 years of impact studies and analyses on the effectiveness of DDI’s Interaction Management® leadership development system, three quarters of the 18,338 leaders in our sample showed an increase in the use of effective leadership competencies after participating in behavior modeling development programs—programs in which participants are exposed to positive models of the target behaviors and have opportunities to practice their new skills. Some of the 10 competencies in which leaders improved most in these types of programs include Building Trust, Communicating Effectively, and Coaching for Success.

Improvement Across a Full Spectrum of Skills

Improvement Across a Full Spectrum of Skills

Better yet, these leaders drove quantitative improvement for their companies in productivity (up 36 percent, on average), sales (up 114 percent), and turnover (down 77 percent).

Worth Less PracticeWorth Less Practice: Allowing Manager Support to Wither

Manager support of leadership learning involves three key components: managers modeling the skills themselves, proactive coaching and reinforcement, and providing opportunities for job application. These three components do not come automatically, however. Research in the DDI Leadership Databank shows that senior managers are often worse at the same set of skills they are trying to teach their subordinate leaders. They also score poorly in their own abilities to coach and develop organizational talent.

Get More Out of Development by Improving Manager Support

Allowing Manager Support to Whither

If you turn up the volume on the importance of manager support, you can realize a better ROI on your leadership development. Eighty-three percent of leaders who participated in our research showed improvement in the use of effective leadership behaviors when they thought manager support was ineffective. This number jumped to 92 percent when manager support is effective. While this difference doesn’t represent a quantum leap, the nine percent difference can make a considerable and positive impact on better employee engagement and an array of other business metrics.

Manager support can take many forms, of course. One we found to be particularly effective is when leaders try out new skills with their managers. When this happens, leaders are almost twice as likely to rate the quality of their development positively, and organizations are five times more likely to report having the quality of leaders to meet current and future business needs.

Best PracticeProven Practice: Finding the Gold in Development Plans

Past DDI research has shown that while many leaders may have had development plans, few used them as the year progressed.

Following a trend in performance management, formal annual development plans are being replaced by short-term plans prepared by leaders themselves, not their bosses. Nevertheless, development planning can have a high payoff. The creation of a plan encourages healthy dialogue between a leader and his or her manager. A plan can also serve to solidify the leader’s focus on those activities that are likely to have the highest payoff.

Research in the DDI Leadership Databank confirms that development planning is a gold-standard practice that can have considerable impact. Organizations that report their leaders have plans are over eight times more likely to report having high-quality leaders in place to meet current and future business needs.

When these plans are reviewed regularly, organizations are close to four times more likely to report having ready-now leaders to meet current and future business needs, and nearly two times more likely to be in the top 20 percent of a combined financial performance index.

Learn how DDI can help you transform your leaders to transform your business.

DDI’s Leadership Databank shows which practices are really the best—and which ones to revise or abandon.

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