Good leadership development is easy. Great is not.

Cocktails, time and money are all you need to make a difference. But for really high-impact leadership development you need to focus on the Rule of Thirds and nine key elements.

Leadership development is big business. Up-to-date figures are hard to come by, but annual spend in the US alone is most likely around $15bn, which makes global investment roughly double that. That’s an awful lot of money by any standard. Clearly a lot of organisations see significant benefit in spending heavily on this activity.

But here’s the thing; leadership development is actually pretty easy. If you just want to make your leaders better than they currently are then there are two simple things you can do that will deliver results.

Great leadership development- the sort that gives you a competitive advantage and delivers measurable results – is much harder. It has to be otherwise everyone would do it, and it is absolutely worth the effort. There’s not a single competitive advantage any organisation has that doesn’t ultimately stem from decisions or actions taken by its people. And the biggest influence on the behaviour of those people is – of course – the quality of leadership they are exposed to. Great leadership development requires a third activity, but we will come to that later.

The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a simple model to help understand this in more detail. Let’s look at each of the elements in the below diagram in turn.


1. Cocktails and introspection

“I really benefited from time away from the office to clear my head and think about my role as a leader.”

How often have you heard that from a participant after a leadership development program? The simple fact is that a significant developmental benefit comes simply from giving leaders time to think about something other than the day job. Lock them in a hotel with nothing more than cocktails and their peers, tell them to think about how to be a better leader and they’ll come up with some good insights.

Everyone can define what they think “good leadership” looks like. So remove the distractions and give your leaders time to mull this over, and they will inevitably come up with some ways that they could improve their performance. You don’t need to do anything more than this – no training, no assessment, no leadership theory. Just find a nice location, apply some stimulus (alcohol, yoga, golf) and you’ll see some improvement.

Around a third of the benefits of leadership development comes from simply providing the space, physical and mental, for leaders to think about leading.

2. Leadership development 101

But we can do better than that, and most organisations feel the need to accompany the cocktails and spa resort with something that looks like structured learning.

So let’s define the leadership capabilities we need, and find a vendor to deliver some content. Since time began, all leaders have needed to be good at strategy, communication and decision making, so those are a given. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of empathy, resilience and a growth mindset, and skills such as design thinking are having a moment, so we should include something on that. And every leader needs to think about the impact of robots and automation. That’s a pretty solid curriculum that touches on most topics.

Finding a vendor to design and deliver something doesn‘t need to be too complicated either. As we’ve seen, the market is enormous so there are plenty to choose from. And it‘scompetitive, which means most vendors offer decent quality or they don’t survive. So talk to one of your current vendors or pick one online. It won‘t take long to find a vendor who has a course or workshops that cover the above curriculum. Agree dates, times, budgets and hit “go”.

A straightforward, not to say generic, leadership offering plus the time and space to think will give you two thirds of the potential benefit you can expect to get from investing in your leaders. The final third – the activity that gives you great leadership development, the sort that delivers a competitive advantage and performance uplift – requires something else.

3. Nine ways to make your leadership development great

Cocktails and generic content will help, but genuinely high-impact leadership development contains nine crucial elements:

  • Customer-driven; Your customers must be at the heart of defining ”good leadership”. This includes shareholders, investors, analysts, regulators and clients, and they should be prominent in the design and the delivery.
  • Leader-led; Senior leaders should be engaged in the design and conspicuous in their sponsorship. Leader-led activity is key to the credibility, impact and prestige of your leadership development.
  • Aligned; Leadership development cannot be an isolated activity. The capabilities you build should be aligned to all other people-related activity: recruitment, performance management, reward, promotion and succession planning.
  • Blended; Development should not start and end in the classroom. The right mix of eLearning, assessment, coaching, face-to-face training and delivery partners is key, but most important is applying the learning at work.
  • Collaborative; Your development should provide structured networking opportunities. Participants’ line managers should be involved in the development activity, and peer coaching is a powerful way to support and encourage collaborative learning.
  • Selective; You should be clear about who your development is targeted at. It could be high potentials, C-suite, or everyone – but whoever it is, you should definitely have a way of ensuring the participants are ready and willing to learn.
  • Engaging; Don’t simply consider the development opportunity, but also how far you want to make the learning experience engaging and memorable. If you make your leaders feel valued and special as well as worthy of investment then this can bring powerful retention and engagement benefits.
  • Fluid; Your clients, environment and strategy regularly change. So should your leadership development. You should regularly review your leadership capabilities and development portfolio to ensure ongoing relevance. A business suddenly in crisis needs different leadership compared to when it was stable and growing steadily.
  • Measurable; You need to know whether your activity makes any difference, and not just through participant “happy sheets”. Use hard and soft metrics to track the impact, and do so over an appropriate time period.


What we do and how we can help you

1. Current state reviews

This is an audit of current state against the nine elements model. Consisting of interviews, desk-based review and comparison against leading practice globally, clients receive a summary of current state leadership development along with recommended priority action areas.

It’s usually a short piece of work and a great platform to build on (see images, above). Particularly helpful if you’re a new CHRO or Head of Leadership, or are thinking of reviewing your strategy and approach.

2. Leadership strategy

We help clients develop a holistic leadership development strategy. This typically includes defining or updating leadership capabilities, how to build capability and the implications for all people processes and activity.

Our approach typically includes workshops, interviews and engagement with business and external stakeholders, and the output is a leadership strategy aligned to organisational need.

3. Program and activity design

We have deep experience of designing leadership development programs, from short sessions to multi-day residential programs. This includes in-house experience and partnering with specialist vendors (e.g. eLearning). We have an extensive global network of associates that we leverage to ensure world-class quality of design expertise and up-to-date thinking.

4. Delivery and facilitation

We bring qualified executive coaches, highly experienced facilitators and a wealth of delivery experience. This comes from working with public and private sector clients around the world, and includes co-delivery with clients and other external partners. And as with the design, we can tap into our global network of associates to build a bespoke team to meet each client’s needs.

Why work with us?

Murray Priestman, Principal, was previously Global Head of Talent at Macquarie Group, where he was responsible for leadership development globally. This involved working closely with business and external stakeholders, as well as external experts, to define, build and measure leadership strength and depth. Prior to that Murray was at KPMG where he worked with organisations across Asia Pacific, Europe and North America on leadership strategy and capability.

Our approach is based on this experience. We bring leading thinking and global expertise, as well as a deep network of associates that we leverage to provide the skills and experience best suited to each individual client.

Contact us to talk more: | (+61) 0417 235 557 |

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