Building Leadership Development into Strategy

I’m stealing from my inbox again for today’s post – this one is an email I had “starred” and forwarded to a colleague some time back. It’s from Bridgespan again, which isn’t something I would have expected. If I had to guess, I would have expected that I would post content from HBR and McKinsey, and Stanford Social Innovation Review as much as Bridgespan (or more, since they send more frequent updates). So this daily blogging process is proving interesting in unexpected ways. For those interested in social entrepreneurship, particularly around questions of leadership development and scaling social impact, I highly recommend the free registration for Bridgespan newsletters.

This article by Elizabeth Bibb Binder and Kirk Kramer entitled “Facing the Future: How Successful Nonprofits Link Strategy to Leadership Development” hit my inbox in August 2013. It opens with the disconnect between how nonprofit leaders rank leadership development as very important but also rank it as one of their most glaring weaknesses.

Since leadership development is often something that is relegated to conferences, offsite trainings, and 2-3 day workshops led by consultants, this doesn’t really surprise me. Yet, that is not the case with all organizations and even those who prioritize internal efforts struggle with articulating how their efforts are impacting operations. I was struck by this in particular:

In our work with nonprofits, we have observed that the obstacles to effective leadership development in changing times arise most often when organizations:

  • fail to specify in sufficient detail how their business model will change and how that change will affect their activities and operations, including what their leaders must do differently to succeed; and
  • focus on generic competencies rather than on the specific behaviors needed to successfully execute the organization’s strategy. In addition, many organizations struggle to provide developing leaders with the underlying skills and experiences that would enable the behaviors that the strategy calls for.
I think it’s easy and intuitive to focus on how skills and certifications rather than behaviors and experiences, so this is really powerful. An example of how to do it right is given when they go over the way that global nonproft Tostan works:
Because one of Tostan’s tenets is to employ people from the countries in which it operates and to promote from within, an apprenticeship and training plan was created to develop the needed competencies internally. But Tostan would also need to fill some positions before those internal development efforts came to fruition, which meant it would need to complement its internal development effort with external hiring. Tostan’s external hiring requirements were carefully aligned with its internal development effort. As a result, when recruiting externally for a director of finance, it was emphasized that the successful candidate would be expected to develop the capacity of direct reports, thus building the pipeline of people with emerging chief financial officer competencies.
The authors also include a brief “how to” section, with some good questions to ask yourself to see if you’re linking leadership development to strategy. I’m glad I took the time to revisit this article.
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