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How to Foster a Culture of Leadership Development

What is a culture of leadership development? It’s a culture where leaders are intentional about leadership growth all the time, not just during year end performance reviews. It’s a culture where everyone is aware of what they are learning, as well as what they are doing. It’s a culture where feedback is offered frequently and with positive intent: the intent to help another person grow. It’s a culture where leaders visibly take the time to mentor and support the development of others.

A culture of leadership development makes work fun, supportive and future focused and enables a company to deliver amazing results.

By the way, it’s not a culture that values development over results. It’s not a culture that is so mired in process and feedback so that it moves slowly. It’s not a culture that tolerates unproductive activity in the name of personal growth.

A culture of leadership development can be such a powerful business tool, but is elusive for so many organizations.

How do some companies make the ideal real?

Leaders live it.The senior leaders in the company set the standard for a commitment to leadership behaviors in their actions. Senior leaders visibly allocate time and attention to the growth and development of others in the organization. Feedback is frequent and constructive. Senior leaders make time for their own growth to role model their behavior for others.

Leadership development is real time not added time. The tools and processes of the organization encourage everyone to pay attention to growth and development on a regular, in the moment basis. Meetings end with feedback; roles are defined for both their business deliverables but also their growth opportunities; mentors are valued; after action reviews and learning loops are commonplace.

Jobs and roles are defined not just for what someone does but what someone is learning. The learning lens changes how roles are defined, and progress measured. High potential leaders take on jobs that expand their skills and have the support of mentors and others to ensure their success. Leader transitions are not about filling the spot, but about assessing how best to accomplish the work. When leaders change, roles shift to continue to develop employees even as they stay in the same team.

Leadership programs go beyond skills to build strategic networks, insights and common vocabulary. Leadership development sessions can take many forms, but they all focus on practical applicable skills and insights that are connected to the organization’s vision and operations. As a result, the relationships and insights that a participant gains immediately help him or her deliver results for the company. These programs build a common core of participants who have had a shared experience; have built a new network of relationships and can speak a common vocabulary about the business. Business simulations are an ideal way to integrate perspective-shifting; skill- building and network development all in one high energy learning activity.

Leaders learn to learn from experience. Personal growth occurs in all forums, but only if you pay attention. In a company with a leadership development culture, leaders learn to learn not just from training programs and events but from their assignments, their mistakes, their peers and their successes. There are rich leadership lessons in each major assignment, but leaders have to pay attention to capture and apply their insights from that experience. In a culture of leadership development, leaders build their skills to learn from what they do.

Reflection is considered an essential activity, not an annoying afterthought. Adults don’t learn from experience; they learn by reflecting on experience. Reflection requires some discipline and some quiet. Leaders in a company with a leadership development culture pause and reflect on their leadership. Maybe not weekly or even monthly but at some regular intervals leaders pause to consider their own leadership journey. Any leader can tell you what he or she hopes the next milestone on his/her path will be and is actively building the skills and experience to get there.

A culture of leadership development is a discipline that engages and excites senior leaders and employees alike. It is not just about annual review cycles. It takes attention and shared commitment across the leaders in an organization but not as much incremental time as many leaders think it will. The return on the investment, however, is enormous.

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Amanda Young Hickman is co-founder of Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and experiential learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.