Tom’s team sits, simultaneously sobered and strangely energized. They’re about to deploy their strategy through a variety of key initiatives. They have resolved to use their strategy implementation process to dramatically increase the depth of their leadership bench.
The plain, hard facts stare them in the face. They just mapped their existing team to sort their proven leaders from your potential leaders. They’ve set targets about converting a certain number of potential leaders into proven leaders – and elevating solid team members into the potential leader category. They know they have to do all of this while getting a slate of key projects completed.
Maybe you’ve done this too. If you want to convert the everyday work of strategy deployment into a leadership development masterclass, the next step is to engage your leaders in the process. Let’s get started.
How to Convert Strategic Initiatives Into Leadership Development Masterclass
Structure your initiative teams carefully. Development will never happen unless you set teams up for success. Your circumstances will dictate some of the design principles for your initiative teams, but we generally recommend the following:
Every team is cross-functional. Strategic initiatives provide a great opportunity for breaking down silos.
- Every team is as lean as possible. Different initiatives require different numbers of people, but neither a bloated team nor an under-resourced team works well. Our rule of thumb is 3-5 people in the core team with additional people available ad hoc.
- Every team has a clear leader. This person is responsible for getting results in a way your organization would be proud of. Many teams will benefit from a co-leader as well to share the leadership load.
- Every team has an executive mentor. This person is responsible for providing resources and guidance to the team in a way that maximizes both results and development.
Assign your leaders to strategic initiatives thoughtfully. Of course, technical capability or background may drive some of your decisions, but so should the overall leadership development mix in any given project. You may want to pair a potential leader as a co-leader with a proven leader to facilitate peer mentoring. In that case, just be sure the proven leader knows that their job includes coaching up the potential leader.
The same applies to how you assign your executives mentor roles. You know that not all executives are equally skilled or interested in mentoring. Perhaps assign your most developmentally oriented executive as a mentor to a less developed potential leader who is running an initiative. A more proven leader may be able to have a less attentive executive mentor.
What you’re trying to avoid is a less proven leader being mentored by a less skilled or interested mentor on a critical initiative. That’s a recipe for a failed project and a less confident leader.
Identify clear development targets. Before every strategy deployment initiative begins, assess each proven and potential leader for strengths and development opportunities. Add to this evaluation how the particular initiative you’re asking them to lead could get the best from strengths while stretching development opportunities.
You’ll be tempted to skip this work. Don’t. It’s not nearly as good to reverse-engineer this input later. While filling out forms doesn’t matter as much, be sure you can look back at the developmental goals of the process after it’s over. Yes, that means… You. Must. Write. It. Down.
Position the development opportunity positively with the selected leaders and team members. Sit down with each initiative leader and have a candid conversation. It can go like this:
- “We see huge potential in you. You’re a valued team member and leader around here.”
- “We’re asking you to play a key role on one of our strategic initiatives. It will have a big impact on our organization’s future. I hope you see this as a sign of our trust.”
- “As important as this initiative is in itself, our leadership team picked you because we see longer-term potential for you. We want this role to be one of the best development experiences you’ve ever had.”
- “As we picked this assignment for you, our leadership team thought it played to these key strengths (list them). It also gives you an opportunity to grow in some areas we see as next steps for you (list them).”
- “We’re holding ourselves accountable as a leadership team for both getting these initiatives implemented with you and helping you grow through the process. Your feedback on how well we achieve both objectives will be one key way that we evaluate the development impact.”
- “You’ll have support from your team’s mentor and fellow team members as we go forward. We’ll also provide you with regular feedback so that we increase the probability that you’ll succeed and grow.”
Don’t kid yourself: Setting up your initiatives this way is hard work. Most leadership teams tacitly decide that they don’t have time. Many lateral the responsibility to their HR teams. If you want to be the exception, the kind of organization that performs as well as you can while making the maximum positive impact, your leadership team will own this one and do it thoroughly.
It takes time. But you’ll know that your days of staring at an empty leadership bench are numbered. It will be worth the effort.
Founder, Noonday Ventures
Ted helps people and organizations climb higher and shine brighter.
Before becoming a strategy and leadership consultant, he led the professional services division of Wilson Learning Worldwide. He has helped facilitate and implement plans in leading technology, industrial, professional services, and nonprofit environments in the U.S. and Western Europe. Ted holds a Masters in Organization Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago.