Impactful leadership development programmes start with what you say

Man sitting on train wearing headphones

Neha Rohatgi, Talent Manager for the Robert Walters Group, offers insights for business leaders looking to make their leadership development programmes more effective and impactful to their organisations.

In the context of our current working environment, with increased virtual meetings, it's never been more important for leaders to take the opportunity to connect with their people and share the key messages that will define the culture they want to create in their organisations. They also need to make sure that their people take equal accountability for their own development, as well as the development of their respective teams.

Senior leaders are often told that they need to show up at the start of leadership development programmes to communicate their sponsorship and commitment towards employee development. But showing up is not enough — what leaders communicate can make all the difference to the success of these programmes and the impact they make.

At Robert Walters, we've facilitated many leadership development programs, team off-sites and group coaching sessions. Over the years, we've learned what makes these programmes successful from the outset and how business leaders can set the right tone from the very beginning. So, this is our recipe for success:

  1. Create an opportunity to change mindsets, mould behaviours and enable connection
    Often programme attendees have limited bandwidth in terms of doing more than their day jobs, so don’t create a ‘to do’ list for your attendees off the back of these programmes. Focus more on helping attendees think about the softer and more strategic aspects of their roles — how to collaborate better, how to have difficult conversations and create the right culture in the business.
  2. Focus equally, or more on, what leaders could stop doing
    Following on from the previous point, instead of thinking of what more the programme attendees can do, focus on what behaviours can they stop doing, which would make more of an impact in their roles. This is often more effective for long-lasting behavioural change, rather than simply giving them a shopping list of new behaviours they're expected to take on.
  3. Clarify your expectations on outcomes
    Keep your expectations brief and communicate the changes you are looking to see. For examle, in six months’ time, what three changes or improvements do you want to see your team exhibit? Bring this to life for them — instead of instructing them to simply ‘collaborate better’, say, "I want to see you stop talking behind each other’s backs, indulging in gossip, and coming to me for help when there is conflict."
  4. Advocate individual responsibility for results
    Let the team know that there will be a lot of space and time for conversations at regular intervals throughout the programme, but make sure they know that the depth and quality of these conversations and the outcomes will depend on what they put into the process. They need to know that their small actions and commitments can make a huge change to the business and team. They need to feel empowered to make the needed changes and show that they have the appetite to own and drive improvements in the business and in themselves. 
  5. Tell them how they show up matters
    How programme attendees show up and respond will indicate to everyone in the room, and to you, their appetite for growth and leadership — if they are slacking, busy on their mobile phone and pretending to listen, it sends a clear message to others. If they are committed, invested, and engaged, you'll know who has leadership potential, and who you can count on to make things happen outside the learning environement.
  6. Ask them to take accountability
    Let them know that they can get away with easy, surface-level and polite exchanges to get through the programme and go back to things being BAU, or they can spend time thinking deeply, engaging willingly, and having an honest dialogue to create some positive outcomes — such as deeper relationships with each other, more collaboration, and specific actions to change the culture of their business. Programme attendees who emotionally invest, communicate honestly, and collaborate with one another get the most out of these sessions.
  7. Enquire as to how they are expecting to create value for themselves
    This is a critical point — let them know that they will only ‘get’ what they ‘give’ to the development process. Help them think about the ways they want to spend their learning time in order to get the most value out of it. Ask them what their individual point of view is on the improvements they would like to make, and how they can help others on the team be successful.
  8. Share your hopes, dreams, and aspirations
    Ask them to be fully engaged and present — help them to see things strategically, operating as a real leader. Additionally, ask them what can they do better, how can they go from ‘good’ to ‘great’, how can they leverage each other as a peer community and develop themselves as better leaders. These sessions are to help them think and reflect on how to be forward-looking and strategic in their future choices.
  9. Insist on fun
    Last but not the least, insist on fun — the energy they give and get from one another will be crucial to their levels of attentiveness, engagement, and eventually in achieving outcomes. 

Neha is a Talent Development Manager at Robert Walters Group. She has 16 years of experience in leadership development, assessment, and executive coaching.