The best leaders develop leadership in others, on the job.

growing leaders, boss magazineFostering leadership in others is a major role of a leader. Traditional leadership development programs no longer deliver the return on investment we need. With more of the responsibility for leadership development returning to the business, HR Directors can refocus their attention from sourcing training programs and providers to partnering with business leaders on more strategic initiatives.

How Well are We Doing Now?

Effective leadership is critical for an organisation’s success. Market analysts value effective leadership by awarding a ‘leadership premium’ of up to 15.7 per cent of company share price for good leadership, and a discount of 19.8 per cent for ineffective leadership.

Eighty six per cent of HR and business leaders surveyed by Deloitte cited leadership as one of their most important challenges. Yet 50 per cent of HR executives say their leadership development programs are ineffective or don’t provide significant lasting benefits.

The typical organisation invests 85 percent of its resources in training events, yet these events only contribute 24 per cent of learning effectiveness. Organisations only invest 5 percent of their time in training follow-up, even though follow up contributes 50 per cent of learning effectiveness.

The ‘Know–Do’ Gap

growing leaders, boss magazineTony worked his way up the organisation, relying on his strong technical skills in environmental science. His CEO was concerned about gaps in Tony’s ‘softer’ skills and proposed a weeklong residential leadership program at an eminent academic institution.

Tony learned some excellent approaches to leadership, which he could explain confidently at a theoretical level. He also left the program feeling quite bruised by the 360 feedback he received. Now, acutely aware of his shortcomings, Tony felt paralysed. He did not know how to apply these new insights and concepts in the workplace. 

The CEO called me to coach Tony to apply what he learned on the program, and to understand and action key insights from the 360 feedback.

Leadership development is not about what happens in a classroom, it’s about what leaders can do on a daily basis to develop their leaders, on the job. Leaders need to adapt constantly. This requires a flexible approach to leadership development.

Developing Leadership on the Job Requires New Thinking

Creating new leadership behaviours typically requires new ways of thinking and behaving. ‘Adaptive change’ requires new ways of thinking and being, where a ‘technical change’ only requires new skills.

Often, leadership development programs respond to an adaptive challenge (behaviour change) with a technical solution (gaining more knowledge). Knowing more doesn’t always translate to doing differently because we are not addressing the causes of the original behaviour.

Samantha’s marketing team continually miss deadlines. Her people complain she constantly looks over their shoulders. Absenteeism is rising.

As a technical change, Samantha would attend a delegation skills course. If she knows the ‘theory’ of delegation, but can’t apply it, it is an adaptive challenge and a course won’t help. Targeted, real-time support on the job from her leader will help Samantha discover the problem, decode the cause (the adaptive challenge), and design a way forward.

Three Steps to Develop Leaders on the Job

growing leaders, boss magazineHere is the 3D Development Model for developing leadership on the job.

The three key elements are:

  • Discover – Build awareness of the need for change.
  • Decode – Create insight and understanding of the underlying drivers causing the behaviour.
  • Design – Agree on the pathway and actions required to create new behaviours.

Discover—What’s the Problem?

Note: Leader refers to the senior leader. Direct report refers to the junior leader learning on the job.

Deciding which leadership behaviours to develop requires awareness of the behaviours and their resulting impacts. Awareness precedes change, directs change, and creates motivation.

Five key ways to build a direct report’s self-awareness on the job are:

  1. Questioning to expand their perspective
  2. Reflecting back observations
  3. Giving direct feedback
  4. Providing new information (articles, books, programs, etc.)
  5. Encouraging self-reflection

Using a combination of these will provide insight for the direct report to discover what’s really on and decide on the changes they want to make.

Decode—What’s the Cause?

Determining the intention behind the behaviour is critical. Trying to change behaviours without addressing the underlying motivational drivers is like painting a car red and expecting it to go faster—changing the colour does not change the engine.

All behaviour is motivated by conscious and unconscious drivers. The leader must facilitate dialogue that helps a direct report discover their motivational drivers. Energy can then be redirected into behaviour that better supports the direct report’s intention. This is like lifting the bonnet of the car to help them understand how the engine works.

growing leaders, boss magazineDesign—What’s the Action?

Once the direct report is clear on what they want to develop, the leader must collaborate with them to design their pathway for improved performance.

Once the plan is in place, it’s about supporting them to stay the course. How? Through ongoing conversations about what they are doing, how it is going, what needs to change and what they need from the leader.

Context—The Environment for Change

The context for change is critical. The environment in which development is undertaken will influence the approach and outcome. Only by understanding the context that all parties and the organisation are working within can the leader align the three elements to the organisational outcomes.

An organisation’s leaders are uniquely placed to boost the leadership bench strength of their organisation. Support your leaders to develop leadership in others, on the job by:

  • Discovering the problem
  • Decoding the cause
  • Designing the action

Leadership development is too important to outsource.

growing leaders, boss magazineCorrinne Armour is a leadership speaker, trainer, and coach who helps leaders and teams get out of their own way and achieve their objectives. She is co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders. Contact her at