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Leadership Development: An Executive Sponsor Is Key

By vts | April 5, 2017
Leadership Development: An Executive Sponsor Is Key

The topic of corporate leadership development is top of mind for professionals across the world. And while it is more critical than ever to the health of an organization, it is in danger of being one of those overused buzzwords like innovation, collaboration, IoT or perhaps you are old enough to remember Y2K! Especially without the backing of strong executive sponsorship.

Leadership is not something that rises to the surface because of technology, economic necessity or what is currently trending in the business world. Leadership is a trait of being that has existed since the beginning of mankind. And it will always be part of the fabric of living as long as the human race continues to exist.

As John C. Maxwell says “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”

Corporate America

There is no dearth of “top 50” lists ranking best companies to work for, most innovative, most diverse, top mission-oriented, most profitable, and on and on. Fortune just released its influential Top 50 Leaders List. Everyone competes for a seat at the table but what is the common denominator required to get on these lists?

Hopefully you agree with me that strong, exceptional leadership is what gets you in the running. So what enables companies to have strong leaders?

The answer is simple—companies that develop and invest in leadership have excellent leaders.

Companies that have senior leaders who endorse, both individually and collectively the value of leadership development (and actually walk the walk), are more successful across the board.

In fact, a 2015 global study on this issue by Los Angeles-based Korn Ferry points to executive sponsorship as the chief roadblock to leadership development success. The study polled more than 7,500 executives from 107 countries, ultimately uncovering that 55 percent of respondents rank their return on such development efforts as only “fair” to “very poor.”

What was to blame? You guessed it: A general lack of active executive sponsorship, buy-in and support from the top.

I urge you to check out the report. It offers specific tips for increasing the effectiveness of your organization’s leadership development plan, including:

  • Embed leadership development in the culture and strategy. Embrace the idea that leadership development is a continuous process and not just made up of one-time classes or one-off events.
  • Make leadership development more relevant and engaging by focusing programs on the organization’s current strategies and business issues.
  • Roll out relevant and appropriate development for all levels in the organization, including senior-most executives and the C-suite.
  • Don’t cut back on investing in leadership development when times get tough. That is the time to double down on efforts.

Sustainable Impact

Mike Brady, one of the most powerful C-level leaders in America, speaks to groups across the world on the topics of technology and leadership development. Mike is currently the Global Chief Technology Officer at AIG. In one of his 2016 presentations, he mentioned the importance of corporate leadership development and how he has been inspired by Maxwell. In referencing John’s book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You,” Mike describes choosing one or two of these principles to practice every year. THIS IS EXECUTIVE BUY-IN!

As an employee, if you see one of your C-level executives living out creeds that focus on building trust and developing leaders (instead of developing followers), what kind of impact would that have on your effort, confidence and respect for the company?

Without executive sponsorship for leadership development, there is no skin in the game. It will not be a priority and therefore not be sustainable or impactful. Corporations look to their C-suite for ultimate direction and strategy for their business, so why would it be any different in regards to investment in leadership?

If the C-suite doesn’t support leadership development, this apathy will cascade down the organizational chart to directors and front-line managers, eventually eroding the customer experience.

Sometimes the answer is right in front of us. Absolute and simple, yet profound. Here is an investment your organization can’t afford NOT to make. And this investment starts at the top.

As Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

Linda McGuigan is President of Corporate Leadership Solutions for The John Maxwell Company, a provider of corporate leadership development training and coaching programs and workshops, as well as personal growth products. The company’s fully custom offerings are built on the timeless principles of John C. Maxwell, a #1 New York Times best-selling author, coach and speaker who has sold more than 26 million books in 50 languages.

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