By Stuart R. Levine
Published In, The Credit Union Times

If you are trying to decipher what good leadership looks like and determine what leadership programs are most effective, you are in good company.  In a recent McKinsey Quarterly article, “Decoding leadership: What really matters,” a survey of 81 global companies, found that over 90% of CEOs plan to increase leadership development investment because they view it as the single most important human-capital issue they face. However, 57% of CEOs were not confident that the training investments would be effective.  Despite the fact that 86% of HR executives also believe that leadership is one of their most important challenges, 50% rated leadership shortfalls.  Surprisingly, 50% of c-suite executives are not receiving any development in important areas such as strategic communication, respect and inclusion.

The article identified four main qualities that are the differentiating factors between strong and weak leadership effectiveness.  We all know that good leadership has always been considered a critical part of establishing the right organizational culture that leads to engagement, productivity, effective execution of strategies and financial results.   However, these four qualities were the distinguishing behaviors present in the top quartile companies in McKinsey’s Organization Health Index vs. those in the bottom quartile. The qualities are:

  • Solve problems effectivelycreating processes for gathering and analyzing relevant information to strengthen the difficult pre-decision making process;
  • Operate with a strong results orientationemphasizing measureable achievement;
  • Seek different perspectivescontinually testing assumptions by listening and learning;
  • Be supportiveutilizing emotional intelligence to understand teams and the environment.

Many view the investment in leadership capacity as wasteful based upon the difficulty of retaining talent as well as inadequate measurement and sustainability.  However, investing effectively in people creates both loyalty and engagement in addition to building knowledge, skills and abilities.   When people are not engaged, there is a loss of financial results for the organization.  Middle management needs to be engaged as much if not more than those at the highest levels of the company.  The development of your organization’s leadership capacity creates a strategic weapon for not only retention and recruitment, but for succession planning throughout the company.

One example of a CEO who took action to improve the culture of her institution involved the apparently simple initiative of holding more productive meetings.  The CEO learned through data collected that 66% of her management team spent approximately two full days in weekly meetings, yet only 18% believed that all meetings attended were absolutely necessary and only 20% achieved their stated objectives.  Meetings almost never started and ended on time, and very few meetings had all the correct participants.  Agendas and meeting objectives were also lacking.

Knowing that the existing meeting culture was holding back productivity, the CEO rolled out three 30-minute sessions of an on-line interactive meeting management program with strategic follow-up that included personal action plans – with each participant committing to implement the newly learned effective meeting behaviors. The program was highly successful and especially impactful for middle managers looking to increase their leadership capacity.  Senior management was held accountable for modeling the newly learned behaviors, understanding that training programs not embraced or modeled at the senior-most levels of an organization won’t survive or become part of the company culture.

Leadership development programs can often be unproductive, unmeasurable and lack sustainability.  This program improved outcomes and behaviors: meetings started and ended on time, had a defined purpose and the right people were in attendance; meetings stayed on topic and participants developed an actionable and accountable plan for follow up.  Although the program took only a total of 90 minutes of employee time (90% thought the program length was right) the increase in productive time gained each month was immense.  Frustration for wasted time spent in meetings was reduced.  Over 85% felt that the learning would make them and the organization more efficient overall – including increasing strategic communication, creating more listening and engagement of team member’s perspectives and working towards strategic results. 90% said they would recommend the program to a colleague.

This enlightened CEO demonstrated that actionable results-oriented learning programs can have significant sustainable impact on organizations.  The seemingly simple task of running more efficient and productive meetings resulted in more professional and respectful interactions involving more strategic thinking and effective implementation of plans, not just in formal meetings, but for the organization as a whole.  Becoming stewards of capital – both financial and human, is essential for long-term sustainability and making the right investments in human capital and leadership development is critical.