Leadership Development that Really Works

The better you execute on a few fundamentals, the greater the chance you’ll create leadership development that really works.

By Mark Miller, VP, Organizational Effectiveness, Chick-fil-A

I’ve been selling chicken for more than 30 years and in the training profession for just over a decade. However, throughout my career, the question of leadership development has been ever present.

In the early days, we had a sophisticated process for leadership development. I call it emersion and osmosis. It was built on two tenants:

  1. You can observe a lot by looking (I think Yogi Berra said that first).
  2. Leaders will make themselves known.

So, here’s how it worked in real life: Emerging leaders like myself would work diligently to pay attention to what more seasoned leaders said and did. Senior leaders would pay attention, too—and when they saw a young person exhibiting leadership tendencies, they would move to help them grow. This actually worked well when we were a small company. (I was the 16th corporate employee.)

As we grew, we needed more leaders, more quickly—we realized we had outgrown the “emerging leaders should pay attention” phase. So we began a journey we’ve been on for decades, and it continues today. Here’s the question we’ve been trying to answer: “What does it take to create leadership development that really works?” Our answer continues to evolve, but there are a few things we are trying to do. Maybe they’ll help you, too. We’re working to be sure our efforts are:

Informed by our point of view on leadership. What does your organization believe about leadership? Do you even agree on what the word means? More importantly, do you agree on what leaders do? We didn’t. It took a lot of work from some talented people to reach a consensus on this; we now agree. Our leadership development activities are built upon our definition of leadership. What’s your definition of leadership?
Focused on specific competencies or behaviors. Once you know what you believe about leadership—specifically, what leaders need to be able to do in your organization—you’re ready to build training, mentoring, feedback systems, and development plans around these specific behaviors. We recently took another step on this journey by creating leadership talent reviews (by a group of leaders, not just the person’s supervisor) to provide additional input regarding the specific things a particular leader may need to do to add more value and be given more responsibility. How can your organization help leaders be more focused with their development efforts?

Grounded by real-world application and practice. Leadership theory can be interesting, even intellectually stimulating, but at the end of the day, theory is not of much value. We’ve found, and numerous studies over the decades have documented, leaders learn most of what they know about leading from leading. Now, this is not to minimize the importance of training. For example, it is important to know things such as “3 Keys to Delegating.” However, you and I REALLY learned about delegating after we applied those three keys. We’re working diligently to provide more opportunities for leaders to lead as part of their development plan. How much of your development plan involves actual practice?

Although you probably could have written this article based on your own experience, my challenge and yours is to stay focused. Often, it is the blocking and tackling that separates great teams from all the others. The better we execute on these fundamentals, the greater the chance we’ll create leadership development that really works.

Mark Miller is VP for Organizational Effectiveness for Chick-fil-A and author of the recently released “The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do.” All of the proceeds of the book sales go to charity. Miller is also co-author with Ken Blanchard of “The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do,” as well as “Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life.” His blog site is http://www.greatleadersserve.com.

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