Leadership development is an annual top priority for talent leaders. So what is the best way to do leadership development?
There is no shortage of advice. A search on Amazon.com for “leadership books” returns 179,569 results, and “leadership development” returns 18,507 entries.
How can we make sense of so many leadership models? Could thousands of leadership experts all be right? Maybe. “What does it take to be a good leader?” is similar to asking, “What does it take to be a good spouse?” One size doesn’t fit all.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to begin is to facilitate discussions with your current leadership team on what critical skills leaders of your organization need today and in the future. Once you reach consensus, you’re still faced with the challenge of how to develop your leaders.
I recently spoke with David McCulloch, vice president of Underwriters Laboratories’ corporate university. UL built its “Global Leadership Program,” or GLP, from scratch 10 years ago, and after tweaking it for several years, the company says it has found a winning formula.
‘Attitude and behavior change is incredible in seven months, and the camaraderie and emotion is unbelievable.’
—David McCulloch,vice president of UL’s corporate university
UL has promoted safe living and working environments since 1894. Today, UL has become far more and is rapidly expanding its services and global footprint.
Today, UL uses its global deep product expertise to partner with manufacturers throughout the entire product development cycle, including product design, manufacturing and supply chain, ensuring every aspect is safe, socially responsible and compliant with industry specifications.
Each year, three cohorts of 25 to 30 individuals each participate in GLP. Business unit leaders are allocated seats, and they then nominate individuals they are willing to invest in based on a track record of high performance and diversity of divisions and location. They don’t believe in identifying high potentials.
McCulloch emphasizes that everything in the program is by design and based on what UL needs, not based on conventional notions or expert opinions. Self-discovery is key. UL designs for these participant takeaways:
- Bonding and building a global network of meaningful relationships with UL leaders around the world, and enhancing each individual’s sense of belonging at UL.
- Learning more about how UL businesses operate in other countries and cultures.
- Taking increasing ownership, thinking of themselves as leaders.
- Thinking about the overall UL goals and strategy and how to fit with them.
- Learning to work effectively with people across different countries and time zones.
- Enhancing group facilitation skills.
McCulloch calls GLP “a seven-month conversation/facilitation.” There is a tiny bit of lecture the first week covering UL strategy, but UL strongly believes that experience is a far more powerful learning tool than speaking at people.
Here are some of the key design elements:
- Four one-week sessions held in four of UL’s important global locations — China, Italy, Japan and the U.S. — over a span of seven months.
- Work together on important company issues, with recommendations presented to senior leadership.
- Lots of homework between sessions; four weeks is not enough time
- Contact with and presentations to UL’s top leadership team.
- Push people beyond their comfort zone through periods of lack of sleep, running water and other creature comforts.
Suffice it to say that the results appear to justify the investment. According to McCulloch, “attitude and behavior change is incredible in seven months, and the camaraderie and emotion is unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it.”
Talent management is not a paint-by-numbers game. Hats off to UL for figuring out what they really need, applying creativity to their design, for putting their money where their mouth is, and for creating leadership development that works.
Jim Graber is the founder of Business Decisions Inc. and co-founder of The Competency Toolkit. To comment, email email@example.com.
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