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Lead Your Team Leadership

Leadership Development Is Crucial to Business Success

Leadership Development Is Crucial to Business Success
Credit: RawPixel/Shutterstock

Despite a desire to groom future leaders, many business executives aren't supporting their company's leadership development efforts, new research finds.

More than 30 percent of the executives surveyed said a lack of support from the top leaders in their organization is hampering leadership development, according to a study from Korn Ferry, a people and organizational advisory firm.

"Given the central role leadership plays in the success of any organization, the view of leadership development has to shift from a 'nice to have' to a 'must have' business process, as integral as the supply chain, marketing or IT," Noah Rabinowitz, Korn Ferry's senior partner and global head of leadership development, said in a statement.

One reason for the lack of support from top executives may be that most executives think their current leadership development programs aren't effective. The research revealed that 55 percent of those surveyed ranked their return on such efforts as only "fair" to "very poor."

Dési Kimmins, a Korn Ferry principal consultant, said the first step to getting C-suite executives to buy in to their organization's leadership development efforts is to start by focusing on strategic business needs. She said executives must examine what challenges their company currently faces, where the business is going and the leadership profile that will help it get where it needs to go. [Leadership Failures: 5 Stumbling Blocks for Bosses ]

"This process starts with the C suite, and must sustain that level of endorsement and sponsorship to be successful," Kimmins said. "The most senior leaders need to engage in the development strategy and insist the impact is regularly measured and reported."

The study revealed that nearly 40 percent of organizations don't regularly compare their leadership needs with their business strategies.

Stu Crandall, senior vice president of the Korn Ferry Institute, said that for leadership development to have a prolonged impact, these programs need to be part of firms' strategies and must align with current issues.

"Organizations and individuals must have clear plans that align development with both individual career goals and the organization's strategy," Crandall wrote in the study.

In addition to ensuring that potential future leaders get the leadership development training they need, executives also must continue their efforts to better develop their own leadership skills. Kimmins said a common mistake is to assume that leadership development should be trimmed down as executives move to higher levels in the organization.

"People assume that development happens naturally, but that's not necessarily the case," Kimmins said.

For example, she said CEOs not only have to run a business but also deal with shareholders, the board of directors, business partners and the media, and they might not have experience in those areas.

"That's why stepping into the CEO role is sometimes described as a career change, not just another step on the career ladder," Kimmins said. "Development and feedback, even at this level, are essential when so much is at stake."

Experts at Korn Ferry offered the following tips for how to increase the effectiveness of leadership development programs and create a strong and sustainable leadership pipeline:

  • Ensure your leadership development is embedded in your organization's culture and strategy, and that it is fully supported by top executives.
  • Understand that leadership development needs to be a continuous process. For it to be successful, it can't be made up of one-time classes or one-off events.
  • Create leadership development programs for employees at all levels of an organization, including the senior-most executives.
  • Don't cut down or eliminate investments in leadership development when the company is struggling financially; those are the times it is needed most.

Rabinowitz said the companies that are very successful at leadership development have made it a part of their culture and ensure they are constantly working on it.

"Organizations that want to strengthen their pipelines and fill critical talent gaps would do well to make leadership development a much higher priority and build a culture around it," Rabinowitz said.

The study was based on surveys of 7,500 executives from 107 countries.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.