Leading the Leaders: 3 Ways L&D Must Be Different for Executives and Managers

Millennial employees gathered in boardroom for training

Bob Lockett, Chief Talent Officer at ADP, explores the three critical ways learning and development must be different for executives and managers, sharing examples from ADP's emerging leaders program.

The two most pressing challenges for organizational leadership today are developing next generation leaders and failing to attract and retain top talent, according to Ernst & Young's 2018 Global Leadership Forecast. If that isn't encouragement enough to shine a spotlight on leadership development, Deloitte's report on leadership in the uncertainty of 2020 reveals that 56% of executives expect to see a severe or moderate talent shortage in executive leadership. (Emerging Leaders Program)

The time to act on leadership development is now — but the question is "How?"

Training and development for leaders looks different than training and development for employees or associates. But it's not always easy for an organization to understand those nuances or access the kind of training they need to make that distinction.

At ADP, we've learned a lot about leading through our Leadership Excellence Program, where leaders receive rigorous and specific training on improving their ability to lead. Here are three ways we've found our own form of excellence, which we hope can help other organizations establish or refine a unique leadership development program of their own:

  1. Start With a Leadership Needs Assessment

The best way to determine what leaders need is to ask them and the people they work with. Getting this kind of feedback directly from an executive — especially an executive within a leader's reporting line — is a phenomenal way to identify gaps in development and potential for higher performance. This also allows organizations to segment executives into more effective groupings for further leadership development.

For example, in our Leader of Leaders Program, we ask senior-level leaders to identify what they feel the leaders below them need to achieve their best performance. Our Leadership Excellence Program was developed to specifically address the identified gaps and fill those needs by providing three tiers of customized learning and development training for the different leadership stages: the emerging leaders program, the leaders of leaders program, and our executive programs.

By breaking down our approach to leadership development in this way, we're ensuring we can be as effective as possible while making the most of our executives' time — and it all starts with a leadership needs assessment.

  1. Leverage Technology and Expertise Outside Your Organization

Another way we ensure the most up-to-date leadership development is by including resources, technology and expertise outside our organization. We leverage technology at all levels of training to reinforce what executives learn in the programs. This includes real-world simulations, weekly reminders with tips and pointers, practice sessions to hone new skills or run through difficult conversations, all easily accessible on their smartphones.

We also pull in industry experts with deep experience in their given fields in order to ensure our best practices are as up to date as possible. For example, in the Executive Orientation Program, we partner with other organizations to hone each of our executives' specific skill sets in team-based development opportunities. This includes partnering with various universities for finance skills, other technology companies for technology skills, and even working with the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at West Point on team alignment needs.

  1. Explore the Nuance of Leadership

The content of your leadership development is what's most important. Executives don't need to learn how to perform a certain job function or task better — they likely perfected their approach to their daily work a long time ago. What executives need from their training is nuance and insight into how to improve their management and big-picture thinking skills.

One example of this kind of nuance in performance and development is the Emerging Leaders Program's focus on situational leadership, where managers learn how to manage in different situations.

Aspiring leaders are taught how to assess the skill level of an associate, the difficulty of the particular task, and how these factors apply to determine the appropriate amount of engagement to provide (i.e. engage more heavily, or pull back). This action learning component of the program helps frontline leaders learn and apply the skills needed to become more effective leaders in a variety of situations.

We also emphasize the notion of "leaders' intent," where we teach leaders to avoid telling associates how to get a task done. Instead, they are taught to communicate to their teams what needs to get done and why it needs to be done to allow associates to better understand their role and how they add value on their own.

Leadership Development that Reflects Your Organization's Priorities

Few organizations have mastered the art of developing leaders. And even in organizations that consistently develop their leaders, there's always room for improvement. We hope this glimpse into ADP's Leadership Excellence Program helps organizations evaluate and develop their own programs to address the critical need for leadership development in today's competitive world of business.

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