Critical Components of Leadership Development

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Steve Hodlin

Many of the leadership development programs in corporations are based upon the leadership competency model. They focus on developing the individual characteristics in people who are assigned leadership responsibilities. In essence, they attempt to make all leaders alike. The equation is to grow leadership qualities in people and expect it to lead to results.

The question is "what results?" What is needed to better align the organization is to develop leaders using a results-based model. The equation changes to defining the desired results, followed by growing people and processes to ensure those results occur. This approach applies to all employees and not just the leaders.

Too many training programs are disconnected from the strategic objectives of the organization, and are just a menu of the training flavor of the moment. It is far better to identify the strategic goals and desired results, inventory the capabilities of employees and the leaders, identify the gaps, and focus the training and development on the gaps to achieving the desired results. Leadership becomes situational in this sense.


Ethics Is Essential

Leadership development should include a focus on ethics and integrity, along with communication. The biggest mistake leaders have made over the past ten years has been to focus on their individual agendas, rather than what is best for the institution and its investors. Ethically, many leaders lost their way, and the future leaders need to be ethical beyond reproach to assure the trust of their people, investors, customers, communities and society. Executive arrogance and selfishness has poisoned the atmosphere in far too many organizations.

Integrity and trustworthiness is essential to the success of the leader. These are character issues, however. Leader development should cover the expectations with regard to ethics and the core values embraced by the organization. A leadership development curriculum of self-discovery of a leadership candidate’s personal values relative to the organizational core values is highly recommended to lead to the leader discovering their authenticity and alignment of personal values with the values of the organization. It is essential that the leader can commit to the core values and have a character of ethical behavior in order to be successful as a leader. Otherwise, as soon as the economy rebounds, talented people who do not respect their leadership will head for the door.

Leadership-Competency Model and Authenticity

Going back to the leadership-competency model, it is not a good idea to clone leadership styles. Leaders should not emulate the styles of a Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca, Rudy Giuliani or other public leadership personalities. They will not be successful as leaders trying to be someone that they are not. To be successful, to be trusted, and to be viewed as being a person with integrity, the most important style for a leader is to be themselves. They need to understand themselves before they can get others to follow their visions. They need to be an authentic leader.

Nobody can be authentic by trying to be like someone else. It is important to learn from others’ experiences, but to be successful, the leader needs to take what they learned and apply it in their own way. It is important for a leader to understand themselves, because the hardest person they will ever lead will be themselves. Leaders need to take responsibility for their own development, and they must devote themselves to a life of continuous learning to be a great leader. So, in addition to being ethical and trustworthy, leaders must be self-aware.

Results-Based Model

The first essential element needed in an organization in order to be results-based is to have a compelling vision. This vision serves as the compelling force that creates the energy and focus on the direction and future of the organization. This represents the guiding light or direction of the organization. The vision should not be developed by the senior management team, then passed down from above to the rest of the organization. The buy-in and commitment from the organization is enabled through the involvement of the other employees. This experience of developing the vision and strategy is a development opportunity for leaders as well, and it is a critical experience for the future leaders to have.

The second essential element needed in an organization in order to be results-based is to ensure there is alignment. It makes sense that when the goals of individuals in an organization are aligned with the overall vision of the organization, positive results are likely to occur. It is critical, however, that the operations of the organization are aligned to the strategic vision. What this means is that each department is not setting goals aligned to the vision in silos, separate from the organizational system, but is setting them together to ensure alignment and synergy.

The future leaders should be engaged in this process, as a means of further leader development. Total alignment is a much more involved and calculated process than simply displaying a plaque on the wall, or distributing a vision to the rest of the organization. When alignment is complete, everyone in the organization has goals and actions aligned with the vision that have been operationally set, and it is clear who does what and when. This takes the question of "What results" out of the picture, making it clear to everyone what we, as an organization, are focused on achieving.

This goal-setting process, and its follow-on goal-achievement process, helps the current leaders and future leaders to plan the steps and pull together the resources to make the vision happen. The goal-achievement process is necessary to convert any negative attitudes in the organization to positive ones. People feel good when they accomplish a task and achieve a goal. It builds confidence in people. Leadership development needs to include a series of goal-setting and goal-achievement for the development of leaders in their decision making, their confidence, and their attitudes.

The organization needs to have processes in place to address the ABC’s of behavior. The A’s represent the antecedents, which are represented by the vision, goals and expected ethical behaviors. The C’s represent the consequences for not achieving the goals. This can be positive or negative, or a mixture of both. The B’s represent the behaviors that are expected in order to achieve the positive results that are aligned with the goals. In order to develop leaders, this ABC infrastructure needs to be in place, and aligned with the vision and goals.

These processes and infrastructures become the leadership engine that can be used in the leadership development process. The vision, goals, action steps, responsibilities, accountabilities, consequences and time milestones for the achievement of the goals all point to what is important for all leaders: the achievement of results. As Peter Drucker stated, "Leadership is all about results."


Defining the desired results, then growing people and processes to ensure those results, is a far better leadership development process than growing leadership qualities in people and hoping for results. Leadership is not about possessing certain personal characteristics. It is about the ability to set goals and achieve desired results. That is the behavior that needs to be developed in leaders.