Why should companies invest in emerging leaders.

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

This quote has been seen by most who are well-read in the ways of leadership, yet so many companies still do very little when it comes to investing in their emerging leaders. I was a guest on a podcast recently and one quote seemed to resonate the most with the audience, “Leadership training is woefully inadequate.” Even worse, our stellar role models and hard to find.

Now obviously, there are some good training programs (like mine!!) and there are some wonderful role models out there, but they are getting harder and harder to find. Companies need to make a concerted effort to change how they view leadership development. This includes creating a budget to invest and doing their homework when they are looking at training providers. Yes, there are a lot of big names out there, but as you will read below, you need a program that actually delivers practical steps and stays away from theory and high-level quips that anyone can read in a Leadership book. Take a moment to understand how that leadership program will deliver the outcomes you need and hire your trainers based on that information.

Before we get into what is needed, let’s first understand why investing in emerging leaders is important.

Attracts and Retains Talent. A Bersin report says. “A mediocre manager will never attract or retain high-performing employees. Developing, coaching, and promoting people internally is significantly less expensive than the costs typically required to hire someone externally.” Retaining talent refers to all staff. Most people leave the workplace due to their manager, the same goes for why most stay. Investing in your leaders creates a deeper richer pipeline of talent.

Improves the bottom line. High turnover is costly and causes the training budget to be put towards onboarding. Investing in your leaders translates into streamlining processes, increased productivity and staff that by in large are happier and excited to get to work. McBassie and Company writes, “Superior human capital management is an extremely powerful predictor of an organization’s ability to outperform its competition.”

Drives Strategy and Culture. Developing and allowing your leaders to be leaders gives them the ability to look towards the future. They can execute on the business strategy and be the catalyst to change and improve company culture. They take the words on the nifty little wall poster and put them into action.

Ability to Navigate Change. Good leaders build teams that are connected. Teams that trust and support one another and those teams are always able to handle change must more easily. Also, these leaders are able to respond to change quickly and in an appropriate manner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen so-called leaders behave poorly amidst change and wreak havoc on their teams. In a time where change is constant, you need leaders who can rise to the challenge and who have a ready and willing team behind them.

So, what is needed to ensure your Leadership Development is productive and gives an ROI?

Training that is practical. Most training is either theory or too high level for people to translate it to themselves. They spend all day or a week even in training sessions and the entire time they feel what they’ve learned does not relate to them or they have no idea how to put it into practice. How does that create an ROI? Training should be direct and those in the training need to understand what is important and various ways to walk the talk. To give a simple example, most leaders understand transparency. They can all give a similar definition, however, how it’s put into practice differs wildly. Most leaders will feel they will be transparent with the info they need to deliver to their team that comes from on high. Or that they feel their team needs to be transparent so they don’t receive any unexpected surprises. Yet when it comes to them actually being transparent about themselves, that is a no go. They can never let their team think there is something they don’t know or that the team might be smarter than them in some areas. A good trainer will work through what real transparency is and how it’s used to create a connected and productive team.

Individual training. Yes, there are overarching standards that need to be put into play, however, we are talking about human beings here. Not all leaders are the same, so while there are standards there also needs to be some time spent on the individual. This focus allows each leader to develop their own ways of executing those practices so they are comfortable and, well, executed. Let’s face it if it’s uncomfortable to a person they aren’t going to put it into practice. In addition, I truly believe emerging leaders need to be keenly aware of their own values and the values they want for their team. In addition, they need to be very clear on the behaviors they want to support those values. It does that person and their team no good to have a value and not be given ways to bring that value to life. This is a big portion of my leadership training and coaching that involves a lot of discussion and challenging, but once we are done these emerging leaders are very clear on their direction, what they can add to the company and how the team will perform.

Training that focuses on connection. Again, we are all human and the biggest area that has gone by the wayside in training is how leaders connect with the individuals on their team. Long gone are the days where you can command and control your staff and there is no way in hell you can truly motivate them to not only be productive to a high level but also to want and enjoy coming to work every day unless you are a connected leader. Again, my training is highly focused on connection as that is what delivers the goods. Every. Single. Time.

Change in hiring practices. I realize this might be a leap with leadership development, but you can’t develop leaders if you don’t first hire the right people. A growing trend is to fill a leadership role with a job description that has all kinds of technical requirements and often technical certifications. Do you want a leader or a doer? They can’t be both. Yes, it’s good for them to have an understanding of what every person in that department does, but instead of looking for technical certs how about looking at how well they can motivate a team? How have they led people through transformational change? How have they increased delivery, productivity or customer service ratings? Having a level 3 engineer certification doesn’t help with any of those areas. Also, it’s become a practice that companies don’t look within. They may allow internals to apply, but they don’t really focus on what they can deliver. So what if they were in a completely unrelated department and don’t have the technical skills. Do they have leadership skills? Do they know your company inside and out, as that kind of training is much more costly than getting them up to speed on what an engineer does.

It’s about time companies start taking a hard look at their Leadership Development and really focus on how they build up their emerging leaders. Not only do they need to be committed to the process they also need a plan and a well thought out one. Don’t just hire any company, hire one that is going to focus on the right things for your company. One that can shift the tide quickly and start delivering to your bottom line immediately. Yes, the right training might cost you upfront, but the return is phenomenal in many ways. Or, you can keep doing what you have been doing and keep the “leaders” who are only sticking around for a paycheck. The ones whose delivery is mostly lip service and causing the rest of your staff to leave in droves.

Remember what you focus on, is what comes true.