Our experience of delivering leadership development programmes that make an impact

What makes a successful leader has always been a subjective question. But when it comes to developing leaders in a way that leaves a lasting, positive impact on the individual and their teams, there are some common threads that we see time and again.

To get more insight into this topic, we’re in conversation with Frédéric Lhospied, Managing Partner at TPC Leadership France, and Marcus de Vasconcelos, Managing Partner at TPC Leadership Switzerland, about their experiences of leading programmes and what factors can help foster the required change.

It starts with alignment to change

A successful leadership development programme obviously needs experienced people to guide it. But if the input is only coming from one side, the effects of the programme will only go so far. To achieve a truly lasting impact, leadership development has to take place in a culture that’s not only willing to change, but is also ready to embrace self-leadership.

“The role of a consultant is to help bring the message across and structure the programme,” Marcus says. “But there should be a lot of co-creation workshops so everyone is involved in deciding how to transform.”

Frédéric recalls working with one client to deliver a leadership development programme for their mid-senior management. It began with strong ambitions for a multiple-year journey, but they were also putting a lot of pressure on the consultants to come in and deliver the skills and behavioural shift that would trigger a cultural transformation.

“What we did was progressively find that balance,” Frédéric says. “The CEO and the HR Team were really supportive, and their buy-in helped us to find an efficient, effective programme for the participants. But if there’s no willingness, it doesn’t work.”

Developing leaders takes bravery

To make a lasting, positive impact on an organisation, a leadership development programme doesn’t just need a willingness to embrace change. It also needs willingness to face some very tough decisions.

If a leader has gone through a development programme but won’t listen or enact the changes in their own role, it’s tough to justify keeping them in that position. When a manager won’t role model a new culture, their behaviours will inevitably filter down through their direct reports and jeopardise the effectiveness of the programme.

Frédéric remembers one firm that managed to turn around a deep-set problem with low team engagement by making brave decisions. “They fired some toxic people in the team and invested in recruiting the right people,” he says. “Two years later their annual assessment survey saw a huge increase in engagement across the whole organisation.”

That’s not to say every successful leadership development programme has to end with some leaders being pruned away. But the reality often is that some people aren’t going to evolve in the way the organisation needs. That’s not always about a personal failing either – sometimes people are simply put into leadership roles at the wrong point of their career.

“Leadership development has to be seen as including tough decisions,” Marcus says. “Sometimes people are simply in the wrong position or their mindset is not aligned with the organisation’s needs. I can’t think of a transformation initiative I’ve been involved in where that hasn’t been the case.”

When it works, the signs are clear

A crucial aspect of any leadership development programme is being able to measure the effect it’s having on the behaviour and culture in your team. And we believe that when a programme is making a positive impact, the proof is hard to ignore.

Sometimes the results are very clear and tangible. Marcus recalls one example of a programme he saw at a global service centre for a Fortune 100 company. Prior to the programme the team was struggling with a deeply toxic culture, in which a lack of accountability was leading to poor client service, high turnover and total disengagement within the team.

But after two years of effective leadership development, the company managed to turn its negative Net Promoter Score around to a positive of 50, and customer satisfaction scores increased tenfold. As for the bottom line, the team also managed to keep costs within the operating budgets for the first time in years.

“That change happened because people started to care,” says Marcus. “Before the programme they would come to work, do the minimum possible, and leave with tasks half done. But after the journey those fundamental attitudes changed, and they started to care about the people in their team and their reputation with clients.”

But sometimes it can’t be put into figures. There are always aspects of leadership development that remain intangible – the quality of discussions in the room, the engagement levels of the participants – but nevertheless these give a strong signal of the impact being made.

“I remember one participant who was fully against a programme in the beginning,” Frédéric says. “But in the end he was so happy about it and took part in a really authentic way. In that kind of situation, when you’re in the room as a trainer, you can feel people developing and you can tell it’s working.”

For more from Frédéric and Marcus, explore our articles on what to set in place before launching a leadership development programme and how to measure its value and success.

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