Impactful leadership development programmes start with what you say

Soft skills in the age of automation

This article is for Business Leaders and Talent Development Partners, to help them think about how they can work with each other to set the right tone for leadership development programmes.

Considering our current working environment, with increased virtual meetings, it is more imperative than ever that leaders take the opportunity to connect with their people and share their key messages to define the culture they want to create in their organisation. They also need to make sure their people take equal accountability for their own and their team’s development.

Senior leaders are often told that they must show up at the start of leadership development programmes to communicate their sponsorship and commitment towards employee development. However, showing up is not enough, what leaders communicate can make all the difference to the success of these programmes and the impact they can create.

At Robert Walters, we have facilitated many leadership development programs, team off-sites and group coaching sessions. Over the years, we have learnt what makes these programmes successful from the outset and how business leaders need to set the right tone from the very beginning.

So, this is our recipe for success:

  1. Create an opportunity to change mindset, behaviours and enable connection. Often programme attendees have limited bandwidth in terms of doing more than their day job – so don’t create a ‘to-do’ list for your attendees off the back of these programmes. Focus more on helping attendees think about the softer and more strategic aspects of their roles – how to collaborate better, have difficult conversations and create the right culture in the business.
  2. Focus equally, or more on, what leaders could STOP doing. Related to the above point, instead of what more can they do, focus on thinking about what behaviours can they STOP doing to make more impact in their roles. Stating behaviours they should stop doing is often more effective, for long-lasting behavioural change, than giving a shopping list of ‘to-do’ behaviours.
  3. Clarify your expectations on outcomes. Keep it brief and state your expectations on what are you looking for. In 6 to 9 months’ time, what 3 to 5 changes or improvements do you want to see your team exhibit. Bring this to life for them, instead of saying ‘collaborate better’ say I want to see you stop talking behind each other’s backs, indulging in gossip, and coming to me for help when there is conflict.
  4. Advocate individual responsibility for results: Let the team know that there will be a lot of space and time for conversations during different intervals in the programme, but the depth and quality of these conversations and the output they get out of these fully depends on them. They need to know that their small actions and commitments can make a huge change to the business and team. They need to feel empowered to make the needed changes and show that they have the appetite to own and drive improvements in the business and in themselves.
  5. Tell them how they show up matters: How programme attendees show up and respond will indicate to everyone in the room and to you, their appetite for growth and leadership – if they are slacking, busy on their mobile phone and pretending to listen then that sends a clear message to others. If they are committed, invested, and engaged then you will know who you can count on to make things happen and who has leadership potential.
  6. Ask them to take accountability: Let them know that they can get away with easy, surface-level and polite exchanges to get through the programme and go back to things being BAU, or they can spend time thinking deeply, engaging willingly, and having an honest dialogue to create some positive outcomes – such as deeper relationships with each other, more collaboration, and specific actions to change the culture of their business. Programme attendees who emotionally invest, communicate honestly, and collaborate with one another get the most out of these sessions.
  7. Enquire how they are expecting to create value for themselves: This is a critical point – let them know that they will only ‘get’ what they ‘give’ into this. You have brought the horse to the water. So, help them think about how they want to spend their precious time to get the most value. Ask them what their individual point of view is on the improvements they would like to drive and how they can make others on the team successful.
  8. Share your hopes, dreams, and aspirations: Ask them to be fully engaged and present, lift their heads out of the weeds and focus on how they are operating as a management team member - what can they do better, how can they go from ‘good’ to ‘great’, how can they leverage each other as a peer community and develop themselves as better leaders. These sessions are to help them think and reflect, be forward-looking and strategic in their future choices.
  9. Insist on fun: Last but not the least, insist on fun – the energy they give and get from one another will be crucial to their level of attentiveness, engagement, and eventually in achieving outcomes.

Neha is a Talent Development Manager at Robert Walters Group. She has 16 years of experience in leadership development, assessment, and executive coaching. She is passionate about making a difference to how organisations grow leaders and drive better outcomes.


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