Building Leaders: The New School Approach

Building leaders is a top priority for corporations today. IMPACT Group’s Developing Leaders Study of 2021, found to “help functional leaders grow into higher leadership roles” ranked as the No. 1 priority of the 100+ CHROs and other talent management professionals surveyed.

If building leaders is your goal, you may be tackling the job using the same approach that most talent management professionals have relied upon for years. Corporations typically lean into leadership development programs that incorporate content-based learning through instructor-led workshops and online learning platforms. The crowning jewel of some of the most popular programs is often a book on leadership, written by a former C-level executive or management consultant.

But do these methods for building leaders generate results?  Experts say no.

Reading the material and listening to presentations on leadership may expose your leaders to new and useful concepts. But knowledge doesn’t equate to performance. Today, leadership development (LD) professionals are eschewing “old school” methods – such as content-driven teaching – and adopting “new school” methods.


Why Building Leaders “Old School” Doesn’t Work Anymore

Old-school, instructor-led leadership development programs can be too heavily content-focused. They often incorporate teachings from well-recommended books on leadership (such as Radical Candor, Smart Tribes, The Advantage, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People … which are all great books.) We recommend these books highly, but you can’t build leaders through content alone.

In fact, curriculum-heavy programs sometimes send the wrong message to busy leaders and executives who are balancing career and family goals. Your high achievers strive for perfection, but they can’t do it all.  And they often perceive such leadership development programs as burdensome “extra work.”

New School Ways to Building Leaders

What do we mean by the new school? The new school approach incorporates two important components: action learning and coaching.

Most of what we’ve used in the past to develop leaders is still good material. And if knowledge transfer alone is your goal, you’re all set. But if your program doesn’t incorporate action learning and a coaching component, you’re not as likely to get a return on your investment. In fact, you may be in “old school” territory.


Why Are Businesses Building Leaders through Coaching?

Organizations have discovered that coaching is transformational. It works. While other development methods impart knowledge, a coach puts learning into practice.  And the more “action learning” that takes place, the better the result.  It comes down to this:  Do you want your leaders to know more or change more?  Performance improvement requires change. Employees must apply what they’ve learned. In short, nothing matters if leaders don’t convert new information into action.

Why now? Giving people a coach signals that you trust and value them. Now, as we are in the midst of the “Great Resignation,” investing in a coach sends the right message to your talent to maintain retention. It says you believe in them and want them to stay.

What is Action Learning

Action learning is based on the premise that people learn better when they go through cycles of “doing and reflecting.”  And coaches are great at pushing people to do and reflect!

As an academic concept, action learning isn’t really new. But the widespread application of action learning would be very new for most corporations. That’s because many organizations do the exact opposite of action learning. At many companies, most learning is based on attending seminars and parking yourself in front of  an LMS screen.

You can promote “learning by doing” if you incorporate a capstone project or other learning assignments into your employee development programs. Or, you can look to coaches to urge people into action: “Next time you are in this situation, such as in your next staff meeting, think about how to apply this technique.  And in our next session, let me know how it went.”

Coaches also facilitate reflection by asking open-ended questions such as, “How did this approach work? What could you have done differently? Why did this work/not work? What might work better next time?”

A Typical Coaching Program

New school leadership development taps into the expertise of coaches who are experienced in guiding leaders to uncover barriers and apply critical skills. The coach may start with an assessment – such as a 360 degree review, MBTI, DiSC or Birkman. Once the coach has helped a leader uncover insights from the assessment, the leader can focus on specific behaviors to grow, with the support of a coach. Each leader sets goals to address in the program, and in many programs the line manager is also involved to gain alignment.

Every coachee and coach should agree to set goals for the program. And programs can vary in the number of sessions, which can of course be conducted in person or virtually.  High end executive coaching programs — lasting 12 months or longer — are not inexpensive.  And that’s why they are aimed at the C-suite.  However, today, coaching for emerging leaders is very affordable — similar in price to other training and development programs.


Is Coaching Really New?

For many years, coaching has been utilized at the executive level. What’s new is the expansion of coaching to a broader spectrum of employees.

IMPACT Group’s Developing Leaders study confirmed that access to a leadership coach (whose fees are paid for by your employer) is still a rare opportunity for most leaders. According to the study, more than 60% of organizations said coaching was typically offered to fewer than 20 people in their organization each year if any at all. And while 71% of organizations said they use personality assessments as part of their leadership programs, 67% said they tend to reserve coaching for executives.

So today, many emerging leaders take personality or leadership assessments but don’t derive the full value. They aren’t offered an opportunity to work with a professional in a confidential, one-on-one setting. Without a certified coach, it’s unlikely your emerging leaders will be able to fully interpret the assessment to better understand themselves. Coaches who are certified in various assessments and can fill that void.

The study did provide evidence that change is on the horizon: 48% of HR professionals surveyed said they plan to expand their use of leadership coaching.

Building Leaders Statistics

Building Leaders with IMPACT Group

At IMPACT Group, our coach-centric approach is based on “action learning.”  The coach uses the action learning model to move the individual from problem solving or learning into action, then reflection upon the success of the action taken.  In other words, these coaching programs are less generic and less curriculum-based, and more rigorously customized to the performance needs of the individual.

Our programs – which 97% would recommend to others – strike the right chord for today’s leaders who are more likely to stay with an employer that believes in their continued success and invests in them accordingly.

IMPACT Group works with clients who haven’t yet instituted a formal leadership development program as well as clients that have an existing program that they want to take to the next level. Find out more about these “new school” programs today.