What It Takes to Build Leaders

Posted 02.22.2010

Leadership-fish Last Friday, I heard a presentation on a study that anyone concerned with building leadership as a competitive advantage should take a look at. It was from Richmond Fourney, a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates working on their biannual study of the Best Companies for Leaders. Joining him was Suzanne Danielle, the director of talent management for Lockheed Martin which ranked 16th of the top 25 North American companies for leaders. 

You can get a summary of the study from Hewitt (conducted with Fortune magazine and the RBL Group) here. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some high level conclusions from the research along with a bit of commentary.

The research says that there are Four Disciplines that the top companies for leaders follow:

Leaders lead the way – One of my favorite leadership maxims is that presence begets presence. That’s certainly the case in the best companies for leaders. 80% of CEO’s in the top companies spend more than 20% of their time on leadership issues. That compares with 34% of CEO’s in other North American companies. Lockheed’s Danielle checked on how many times over the past year and a half her CEO spoke to different leadership development sessions held at the company. The answer was over 90 times with an average length of 1 to 1.5 hours per event. 

Unrelenting focus on talent – The top companies for leaders take an integrated approach to building leaders and rely on six principles (which I noted are incorporated into our Next Level Leadership® group coaching program) to accelerate development:

  • Challenge –  Create opportunities to stretch leaders’ comfort zones.
  • Ongoing Support – Leaders get coaching and mentoring as they try new techniques.
  • Exposure – to other leaders inside and outside the organization boosts learning.
  • Network – Having a support group of colleagues facing the same experiences is key.
  • Action Learning – It’s important to immediately apply new techniques to real life opportunities.
  • Structured Feedback – Feedback is most valuable when it’s followed by an action plan of a few specific areas to work on.

Practical and aligned programs and practices – You’ve got to connect the dots between the results you need and the leaders you develop.  Leaders and organizations need “news you can use.”

Leadership becomes a way of life – This, for me, was one of the most important points.  As the report says, when leadership is a way of life in an organization there’s a rhythm to it.  It’s not a series of initiatives. It permeates the culture of the organization and is reinforced through metrics, rewards and strategic planning.

When you think about your own development as a leader, what experience has made the biggest difference to you? What do you think separates the organizations that “get it” on building leaders from those that don’t?