NOVEMBER 14, 2006
Developing individuals for leadership positions has always been an important task in organizations; however, changes in career patterns and the business environment have introduced new challenges. In the past, it was common for individuals to move gradually up the corporate hierarchy over the course of their careers. While this is still the case today in some companies, much has changed. Organizational tenure has declined even as many industries have grown increasingly competitive as a consequence of technology and globalization. Leaders must not only understand their current business, but be able to respond effectively in the face of unanticipated change. Finding individuals to fill these leadership roles is challenging for at least two reasons. First, because it is more common for individuals to work for many companies over the course of their careers, organizations must make efforts to identify and retain high potential employees if they are to avoid attrition of talent. Even if they are successful in recruiting talented outsiders these individuals will lack the same familiarity with the organization and its strategy. Second, over time downsizing has eliminated layers of management hierarchy; the positions which remain are characterized by a great deal of responsibility and complexity. Assuming that high potential managers’ current assignments will adequately prepare them for their next promotion is unrealistic in the context of today’s relatively flat organizations; additional developmental efforts are required to ensure high potentials have the necessary skills for future leadership roles. Despite these challenges, research suggests that developing leaders is more important than ever to an organization’s continuing success. Many organizations have even identified the strategic management of talent as their key competitive advantage.1
Successful leadership development programs are characterized by top management involvement and succession planning processes.2 These processes provide a formal mechanism to assess internal talent, identify developmental needs and structure appropriate plans. While the human resources department may facilitate this process, business managers should bear the primary responsibility for leadership development and be evaluated on their ability to challenge and mentor subordinates.3 Whether creating development plans as part of a formal succession planning exercise or in another context, success requires managers to make important and complex choices. Decisions about what competencies future leaders should possess, which experiences best develop those competencies, and how to sequence and integrate experiences, are all fundamental issues in leadership development. Finally, any successful program must also be aligned with organizational and individual needs.
The purpose of this note is to present a holistic view of leadership development for the manager charged with developing a corporate program or a single individual. While there is no one approach that is right for every circumstance, the sections which follow offer ways to think through the objectives, experiences and contingencies of leadership development. Armed with this information ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Professor Boris Groysberg and Post-Doctoral Fellow Amanda Cowen prepared this note as the basis for class discussion.
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