Not All Leadership Development Programs are Created Equal

Early in our leadership journey, we are coached and prodded to get started early on our development goals and the activities that will support them. One of the most common and accessible development activities recommended is a leadership course or program.

If internal company options are not available, deciding which course or program to join can be arduous and intimidating. The offerings can feel endless. Navigating your way through the differentiators can cause even the most dedicated leader to lose site of the goal — to learn and grow, and even enjoy the experience along the way.

How can you sort through the offerings and find the one that’s right for you? Knowing that not all leadership development programs are created equal is a good first step.

Every leader and every leadership journey is unique

The best leadership development programs recognize that a leader’s journey is unique. Every person is unique, and so are the inherent challenges of a leader’s journey. In ad- dition to unique organizational and industry challenges, there are the personal experi- ences that we often feel less prepared for and can indeed be the most difficult part:

  • The path is not always be clear.
  • The barriers will often be implicit and unspoken.
  • The exploration and learning journey can be lonely.

Programs that I would classify as differentiators — those that enable meaningful and sus- tainable results — are dedicated not only to making the journey more fruitful, but enjoyable. Programs worth their salt guide you towards building life-long leadership capabilities in a way that aligns with your purpose, values and desires.

The best leadership development programs help you understand not just what you need to do to lead, but more importantly, why you want to lead at all. Knowing why you want to lead is foundational to becoming your best leader and ultimately, making your way successfully through the organizational and personal challenges that arise — with your own sense of identity intact. Knowing why means crossing the bridge from the mind to the heart.

When leaders fail to make this crossing they become much more susceptible to compromised values. They are more likely to forfeit their personal goals and desires.

Five Differentiating Qualities to Focus Your Search

What are the most important qualities to learn and embody as you travel along your leadership path — both the short excursions and the long windy roads?

While the list of qualities needed for success seems endless, there are five distinct qualities that — if developed early in your leadership career — will awaken, fuel and sustain long-term leadership success and happiness.

  1. Self-Awareness: Self-awareness is the foundation of human growth. It is the water that quenches the thirst to be better, know better and do better. Self-awareness allows us to live a life not constrained by circumstance or luck but true commitment to becoming the best we can be. Self-aware leaders access their inner advisor and true voice, even in the midst of challenge and conflict. They bring wisdom that is uniquely their own, developed through deep internal reflection, learning by experience, and a genuine trust in their own knowing of the right thing to do.
  2. Resiliency: Resilient leaders have the ability to adapt, withstand challenges, and grow. Resiliency requires the willingness and ability to see everything as a learning opportunity. When you focus on the solution rather than getting mired down with the problem, resiliency grows. This disposition is intentionally developed through a solu- tion-oriented, empowered mindset.
  3. Presence: A powerful, authentic presence enables leaders to clearly and consistently articulate their values and positions — without an ego-driven need to make others wrong. It enables a leader’s influence and deeper resonance with others. Unique leadership presence is confident, authentic, and effective.
  4. Connection: Relationships are the cornerstone of all success. And genuine connec- tion is the glue that holds together the functioning of teams, partnerships, and rela- tionships. A leader who genuinely connects inspires followership that defines a leader’s legacy.
  5. Growth Mindset: Leaders with a growth vs.fixed mindset believe that their most ba- sic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a capacity for change that is essential for big accomplishments. A growth mindset takes organizations through the dark times with the patience, positivity and persistence needed to get through to the other side.

Now what do you do?

Now that the qualities you want to develop are more clear, how do you assess whether a particular program will help you to develop them? It may not help that these qualities are not as easy to develop as more skill-based such as influencing or negotiation. Here are three pieces of advice to make your search easier and help you select a program that will more likely address the level of development you are committed to.

Look for programs that are courageous enough to claim an internal excava- tion to find your best leader. Leadership development is unique to the person. Driving towards someone else’s definition will not provide the personal meaning necessary for worthwhile development. An internal excavation — an expedition that you lead — allows you to establish your own leadership, a path free of preconceived ideas about what a leader “must” be.

Find programs that incorporate the practice of reflection and feedback operating from multiple perspectives. Reflection and feedback enable you to broaden how you see yourself and the world around you. They anchor these perspectives in real data, ensuring more interesting goals that don’t narrowly rely on how you see yourself and the world around you. It’s hard — but extremely rewarding — work to be willing to look in the mirror and truly see what is looking back at you without blame or denial. In a program that prioritizes reflection and feedback from multiple perspectives, you learn to hold your heart open, developing compassion for yourself and others.

Don’t be fooled by programs that promise quick results, especially when it comes to becoming your best leader. True and lasting development takes time. Like it or not, we are not designed to create and sustain meaningful change in a short period of time. So be patient, focus on the small changes you see in yourself and the impact you are having on the people around you. Most importantly, mea- sure your success not by achieving some level of perfection that likely doesn’t exist, but by your passionate and ongoing pursuit of learning.

Renée is an internationally known HR execu- tive, leadership coach and leadership devel- opment expert with more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. and abroad. She has built leadership and organizational capability in more than 40 countries in the biotech, pharmaceuticals, health care, technology, in- ternet, and service industries.

Renée coaches and advises vice presidents and director-level executives to lead in more integrated and meaningful ways. She has designed, implemented and led dozens of large-scale HR, leadership, and change transformation programs in every area of the business and across highly matrixed, global landscapes. Through experience and experimentation, she has learned what tru- ly works. As a result, several of her change interventions and leadership programs have been benchmarked and published by organizations such as the Corporate Executive Board and Process Excellence Network.

Renée lives with her husband and two children in Sacramento, California. She and her family are fueled by their passion for travel, which includes 45 countries and counting. Inspired by these experiences, Renée is writing a book she hopes will expand some of the limiting paradigms that keep parents from traveling with children. Her blog on the topic can be found at travelmomentswithkids.com.