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We’ve infused a lot of leadership development into this past year.

Organizations are recognizing the need to invest in their leaders – to grow their capabilities, to leave them feeling invested in.

But doing leadership development doesn’t guarantee any organizational impact. Because so often a program is built on an assumption that leaders just need the delivery of information – a tool, a framework, a 5-step plan – to do the leader thing.

Content, my friends, is table stakes.

So what are the drivers of a program that actually delivers impact – that enhances capability, unlocks potential, and drives business results?

Today I share with you five of the most critical elements of any program you’re bringing to life.

Whether you’re building your own, or are interested in a partnership (check out our Choose Your Leadership Adventure approach, here are the elements I hope you layer on top of the foundation of content you deliver.

1. Address the obstacles

Make space for the fact that practices like delegating, coaching, giving feedback – all the leader things – can be awkward, uncomfortable, time-consuming.

Pretending these practices and habits are intuitive or enjoyable only causes people to disengage from the conversation.

So give them permission to say “it’s hard!”- because often it is.

This is a great spot in which to facilitate a powerful discussion with your participants.

Ask them what holds them back from doing the thing?

If you’ve created a safe space, you’ll likely hear things like:

  • I don’t have the time
  • It makes me uncomfortable / I’m not confident
  • I’ve been burned in the past or it’s gone wonky
  • I can do it faster myself
  • My leader expects me to have all the details

Yikes – so how do you solve this for them? Easy. You don’t. But you facilitate a discussion in which they engage – together – in identifying strategies to help.

2. Facilitate peer discussion

The beauty of stepping out of “trainer” and into “facilitator” role is you’re not expected to have all the answers.

Someone(s) in that room (virtual or IRL) has a point of view or an experience they can share here.

Inviting participants to problem-solve this collaboratively, to share their own experiences (good, bad, ugly) – to extract and share their learnings – is a powerful strategy. This will get some good ideas flowing.

3. Focus on the locus

Truth: Your participants will highlight issues they may not be fully empowered to solve. They may raise issues of culture (we don’t value candor) or chaos (our executive team isn’t prioritized, so how can we be?).

Other truth: There is always something within their locus of control – something they do have the power to do.

So, give them space to name what’s above their pay grade, but then quickly ground them in ideating on what they can change or do.

Let’s say the focus is on unlocking more innovation. And your participants struggle to do this because executive leadership only seems to care about execution and results (no room for experimentation).

You can’t change the executive mindset. But what actions can these leaders take?

Here are some ideas I’ve heard and collected over time:

I can…

  • Ask more open-ended questions in team meetings before asserting my own opinion (to unlock more ideas)
  • Host meetings whose purpose is to explore ideas – not give updates or talk timelines
  • Invite my team to spend an hour a week networking or learning – to see what ideas are triggered
  • Seek small opportunities to enhance process or service – and label this “innovation,” rather than always focusing on new product ideas.
  • Take small, contained risks, and ask forgiveness not permission (ensuring the stakes are low enough to do this)

All these actions or practices support innovation – and none requires behavior change at the executive level.

4. Create accountability for action

Ask for commitment to action before the end of a session. Then offer a tool to support their accountability. I do this through Participant Guides and Learning Journals.

A simple Learning Journal is designed to capture their actions and experiences along the way. And over time, it’s a way for them to see the accumulation of experiments over time.

It helps them feel successful. And success begets success.

5. Engage their leaders in the journey

And finally. We engage the leaders of participants in this journey as well so they’re able to support and empower participating leaders to lean in.

Whether through summary guides or live kick-off calls – engaging the leaders of participants is a key driver of stickiness for participants. We find that when participants’ leaders are engaged, participants feel more supported, empowered, and recognized.

If you’re on your own leadership development journey, we’re here to support you in whatever capacity you need. Learn more or connect with us today!