Leadership Development is Not a “Check Box”

 In Human Resources, Leadership, Management
Anne Graham

Anne Graham is a seasoned HR professional with an expertise in organizational and leadership development.

Congratulations, you’ve promoted your top-notch performer to management!

Now what? How will you ensure he or she will be successful in the new role?

Despite the convincing evidence for effectively developing your leaders, many employers do not implement effective programs to develop their leaders, with many seeing training and development as a “check box” chore rather than an ongoing program.

Anne Graham is an HR professional with over 25 years experience across a range of industries. She has dedicated much of her career to developing an expertise in organizational and leadership development.

As a Business Sherpa Group consultant, she frequently partners with CEOs in small organizations to find solutions for difficult talent issues and to drive impactful HR initiatives.

Recently Anne shared her frank opinion about the woeful state of leadership development in organizations today.

Are Organizations Effectively Developing Top Talent?

“Some organizations are doing this well, but many aren’t,” says Anne.

For those that aren’t, employee, management and leadership development are typically done poorly, if at all. Many organizations have processes in place that simply “check the box” but don’t drive meaningful results, and this is a problem.

Leadership development is the stuff that falls between the cracks. When done well, however, it can make a substantial difference to a company’s performance and, ultimately, their bottom line.

Anne likens a company not doing employee development to taking up smoking – one cigarette today won’t kill you, but the long-term impacts can be devastating. The challenging part is that many organizations still perform well under poor management – until hard times hit.

Small businesses in particular have fewer physical and financial resources available for development compared with larger organizations. But that shouldn’t stop them from focusing on developing their managers – the potential impacts are huge. In fact, with their small size, Anne feels smaller employers actually have an easier time aligning their team and improving communications than their larger counterparts.

Even the Pros Need Practice

One challenge with leadership development is that many executives achieve a leadership position and don’t feel the need to continue to sharpen their skills. “They don’t think it applies to them,” says Anne.

Consider professional sports teams. You can bet the winners of last year’s Stanley Cup, the Super Bowl or the NBA Championship aren’t waiting for the playoffs to start training again. Those athletes work out and practice all year round, throughout every season. The same should be true for the CEO and leadership team of an organization. Seasoned managers need to make the time to “sharpen the saw” – Anne Graham

Don’t Leave Your New Managers Hanging

On the flip side for new managers, organizations consistently promote practitioners into leadership roles and massively underestimate the power that a good manger can have on an organization.

“We need to recognize the distinction in skill set between a manager and a practitioner, and then equip first time leaders with the skills to succeed,” says Anne. “I see a surprising lack of support for first-time managers.”

6 Ways to Improve Leadership Development

Manager development can be overwhelming for many organizations. Few will deny the impact of brilliant managers and engaged employees. But which tactics will make real change in your organization?

1. Put an ROI on Employee Retention

One of the biggest challenges with leadership development is getting approval to put your programs into place, especially if they are costly. Anne finds many organizations don’t think about investing in their people in the same way that they invest in other areas of the business like R&D.

Her advice? If you can put a number on the cost of loosing employees as a result of poor management, it’s a no-brainer. (Think recruiting costs, training costs, inefficiencies, etc…

2. Create a Monthly Management Forum

In her previous role as a senior HR manager for a leading tech company, Anne realized that the managers had challenges that were not surfacing in regularly scheduled meetings. So she set up a monthly management forum where managers could talk about frustrations and challenges with no agenda.

This simple “venting” period proved hugely effective at building a culture of trust and honesty at the management level, and gave an opportunity to work through problems that weren’t getting raise.

3. Turn Training Into Dialogue

Anne cautions that standalone training courses on their own will add minimal value.

Where they become hugely effective, however, is when training leads to confrontation and dialogue. There should be discussions before and after the training about challenges raised, expected outcomes, problem solving and actionable steps for change.

Anne has found the best formula when it comes to training is having a combination of senior managers and leaders delivering the training themselves

4. Engage in Team Coaching

The most effective leadership development, according to Anne is a team coaching approach, where teams are coached both individually and collectively.

Bringing in external expertise at this point can be money well spent. “It doesn’t mean you need an executive coach to come in twice a week, but an external resource can be more effective at getting conversations started between managers and their employees.” The accountability from setting plans and objectives as a team is more powerful than doing so individually.

5. Spend Time With New Managers

At one previous employer, Anne recalls hiring managers and HR would spend five full days with each new manager, even if he or she was an existing employee. “Don’t underestimate the value of that onboarding time,” she says. This is a critical time to explain values, communication, feedback, etc…

Anne believes strongly that the potential for effective teams lies in coaching and culture for leadership roles. Managers who are well supported, well trained and who understand their new leadership role have a big impact on the people around them, and on the success of the organization. Ultimately, says Anne, investing in effective managers is worth every penny. “And let’s face it, a great manager is a joy to work with and to work for!”


We love to work with organizations at the leadership level to provide team training, performance management and business mentoring support. The Business Sherpa Group is dedicated to the long term success of small and mid-sized organizations by providing embedded business services. Learn more about our HR services.

About The Author

Leslie Foley is the Marketing & Business Operations Coordinator at the Business Sherpa Group. She is a recent Economics graduate from Queen’s University who has built her skills through extracurricular involvements and summer internships.

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