What should be stopped or phased out in leadership development?

When Nick Petrie asked the question to 30 experts, he got a consistent answer:Stop sending people to courses they don’t want to go to.

Petrie dug deeper into this question during a sabbatical year at Harvard. Now a senior faculty member with CCL, he says, “It turns out that the model of telling others what they need to learn and develop isn’t as valuable as it seems. People develop fastest when they feel responsible for their own progress.”

If you’ve ever achieved a goal or learned something new because you were personally passionate about it, the point may be obvious. “But 50 years of leadership development practices have encouraged people to believe that someone else is responsible for their development,” says Petrie. “Many people still have the sense that it is someone else’s job to tell me what I need to get better at and how to do it.”

Nick Petrie

In the future this will change. “In the coming years and decades, we will see developmental ownership transferring more and more to the individual,” Petrie continues.

Petrie found that the growing field of executive coaching holds clues for how to help individuals learn and develop without the prescriptive, top-down approach many of us have experienced. For example, CCL’s approach to coaching rests on several factors, including:

  • The manager — not the coach — chooses what to focus on.
  • The process is customized for each person.
  • The coachee owns her development; the coach guides the process.
  • The coach is a thinking partner, not an authority/expert.
  • There is no “content” to cover.
  • It is a developmental process over time, not an event.

Petrie also found that organizations where people take greater ownership of their development have many of these characteristics:

  • Recognition from senior leaders that in complex environments, business strategies cannot be executed without highly developed leaders.
  • Senior leaders who buy in to new methods for development and are willing to go first and lead by example.
  • Staff who are educated about how development occurs and why development is important to the organization.
  • Staff who understand why development works better when they own it for themselves.
  • A realignment of reward systems to emphasize both development and performance.
  • Utilization of new technologies that allow people to take control of their own feedback and gather ongoing suggestions for improvement.
  • Creation of a culture in which it is safe to take the risks required to stretch into the discomfort zone.

Of course, not every aspect of development can be organized and carried out by individuals. The role of learning and development professionals within organizations will remain crucial. But those roles, says Petrie, are likely to change significantly to focus on creating new structures and processes for development — so that people have access to the options and opportunities that matter most to them.

An Ownership Test

In their 2009 book Immunity to change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey suggest that you would know people in an organization are taking ownership of their ongoing development when you could walk in. Any person could tell you:

  • What is the one thing they are working on that will require that they grow to accomplish it.
  • How they are working on it.
  • Who else knows and cares about it.
  • Why this matters to them.

Want to learn more? Download Future Trends in Leadership Development, a CCL white paper by Nicholas Petrie. You can also follow Nick on his blog about learning, growing and performing atwww.nicholaspetrie.com.

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