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Accountability: The Missing Link in Leadership Development

 

The ever-changing demands of running a business are accelerating the need to develop leaders, and the market offers many leadership development opportunities. As you rally your organization’s resources, systems, and processes to grow leadership capability, it’s important that you look at the fundamental ingredients of a successful initiative—after all, given your investment, you want to be sure to develop leaders who actually lead.

For more than a decade FlashPoint’s consultants have been developing leaders with an eye on helping them to maximize their influence. We’ve worked with leaders individually through coaching and mentoring, in groups of targeted colleagues, and broadly through global, comprehensive, long-term initiatives. While the look and feel, content, and format of leadership programs have varied from organization to organization and function to function based on goals and focus, we find that all successful programs have had one element in common: in all cases, the experience has focused on holding participants accountable for their development.

When executing your own leadership development program, therefore, it’s essential that you emphasize the accountability factor so that leaders take responsibility for their learning and growth. There are simple ways you can better utilize and apply elements of a leadership development program to drive accountability, so this isn’t necessarily about adding anything to your program; likely it’s as simple as looking at how you can enhance components of the program.

Examples of Accountability Enhancements
For example, consider individual development plans (IDPs). Many organizations use IDPs as a part of their leadership development initiative, but more times than not the plans aren’t used effectively (and often are just cast aside). This is a tool that’s ripe for improvement; if you want to enhance accountability, IPDs are an excellent platform. By building in checkpoints and opportunities to review, evolve, and revise the IDP continually, you’ll increase the effectiveness and value of the plan and thus your leaders’ ability to grow.

The beauty of leader accountability is that there isn’t just one way to make it happen—you can be creative in determining the resources, forums, and opportunities that exist for introducing it into your leadership development program. A good example is a large IT consultancy that FlashPoint is currently working with. The company is striving to differentiate itself in the market and establish itself with a larger parent company, and as part of its efforts it’s strategically using leadership development to bring to life core competencies and a common leadership language. Over the last four years, 150 leaders have participated in a 10-month leadership development initiative. The company decided that to drive leader accountability, it would have participants pair up and serve as each other’s “accountability partners.” Accountability partners are assigned at the onset of the program, and participants receive tools to support the relationship and the ensuing conversations.

This approach has been very successful, as supported by data. FlashPoint recently surveyed a sample of the participants to evaluate the effectiveness of the accountability partnerships; we looked at pre- and post-session leadership assessment scores, analyzed how well participants leveraged their accountability partners, and compared that data against the progress those participants were making in their leadership development. We found that the majority of leaders were indeed leveraging their accountability partner and had increased scores on all areas of the post-assessment. Eighty nine percent of leaders who saw a score increase on all areas of the post-assessment had leveraged their accountability partner. Within the evaluation, one participant provided specific feedback on how the accountability partnership provided value to him: “First, we provided each other with a consistent platform to remind one another of the leadership practices and how we were applying those in real life situations. Secondly, I built a relationship with my partner that was based on trust and support for each other. We found a legitimate respect for each other from the time we invested to get to know one another.”

Ideas for Generating Greater Leader Accountability
Again, the accountability partnership is just one example of a tool that drives leader accountability.  The following table categorizes key components within a leadership development program and provides suggestions on how you can enhance/expand upon these components to drive ongoing leader accountability.

Leadership Development Program Component Ideas to Drive Greater Leader Accountability

Executing an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

  • One to two weeks following the creation of an individual development plan/action plan, provide an opportunity for the leader to evaluate his or her plan to ensure it’s clear, specific, realistic, and viable.

Leveraging Key Stakeholders

  • Offer one-on-one and/or group coaching with the leader to forward the action.
  • Schedule structured and informal check-in meetings between the leader and his or her manager to discuss progress toward goals and to encourage manager support.
  • Schedule structured and informal meetings between the leader and his or her team to infuse key concepts into the organization and provide the leader an opportunity to model new skills.

Reinforcing Learning

  • For programs taking place over several months, offer multiple follow-up, check-in, or renewal sessions to discuss successes and challenges in applying the new skills.
  • To ensure ongoing application of skills long-term, consider regular “sustainability sessions”; to drive accountability, include preparation work in which participants demonstrate application of skills.

 

By implementing these kinds of activities throughout the leadership development experience, you position yourself to evaluate whether leaders are actually improving. Too often leaders are left on their own to figure out how to apply new skills, and that serves no one. To maximize the investment that you’re making in leadership development, incorporate tools, structure, and processes to hold leaders accountable and to ensure that they’re actually learning to lead more effectively throughout the process.

To learn more about how we can help your organization with talent development, please email us or call 317.229.3035.

 
HR Industry Resources
Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)
www.shrm.org
American Society for Training and Development (ASTD)
www.astd.org
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200 S. Meridian St., Ste. 270, Indianapolis, IN 46225-1076 Phone: 317.229.3035