Gaining Senior Leadership Commitment for the Leadership Challenge

Stephen Hoel

Q: I believe it is a good idea to have upper-level leadership experience The Leadership Challenge before rolling it out to others in the organization. In general, most senior leaders with whom I work do not feel they need leadership development and want to implement it for lower-level management staff only. How have you gained commitment from such senior leaders when this happens?

A: This is a great question as we, too, have faced this issue with many of the organizations to whom we have introduced The Leadership Challenge. To be sure, organizations that have recognized the importance of having executive and upper-level management experience The Leadership Challenge® Workshop and learn the value of putting The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® into more consistent use have been more successful at bringing aspiring leaders at lower levels of the corporate ladder up-to-speed. When this is not the case, one of the most common evaluation comments we see after a workshop is completed often runs something like "this is great information but my boss should really be learning these skills." Also during workshops, participating leaders often talk about what "they" should be doing-referring, of course, to someone else at a higher management or executive level.

Because we always must recognize that we can only be responsible and control our own behavior, our workshop discussions always get redirected so that the 'they' is seen, in fact, as 'we.' To whatever your sphere of influence, to the people on your team, or to your direct reports, you are the person to whom they look to provide leadership. All of these we vs. they comments can be minimized with support from senior executives and by holding even the most C-level leaders accountable for learning the same skills that aspiring leaders everywhere else in the organization are being required to learn. This creates far greater commitment from all to The Five Practices.

So while the reality may be that not all upper level executives see the need to go first, there are many other ways to gain their support and get them involved:

1. Ask one of the most senior-level leaders to kick off the workshop. Even if you have to brief him or her on what to say, it is inevitable that the kick-off executive will see that more will need to be learned.

2. Provide upper level executives with a copy of The Leadership Challenge book. Or consider purchasing a copy of the 16-page summary, "The Five Practices Article", that provides an overview of what The Leadership Challenge is all about.

More often than not, when people read this brief introduction, they want to know more. They realize this model is not about learning something completely new. Rather, it is about helping leaders recognize their 'personal best' leadership experiences from the past and learning to consciously incorporate The Five Practices behaviors in order to create similar 'personal best' experiences in the future.

3. Gain the support of one champion for each workshop that can share their personal experience with each of The Five Practices as it is being taught.

We tried this recently in two pilot workshops with great success. Although we normally prefer to facilitate a workshop off site so participants do not get pulled back into the day-to-day work during breaks and lunch, the organization wanted to hold the workshop in their on-site training room. As it turned out, this on-site training worked well because it allowed our Champion the flexibility to drop by at specific points during the workshop to share stories of success as well as failures. For example, one executive recently shared the results of his attempt to force his vision down the throats of his constituents without considering their input and making it a shared vision. This was very powerful and led the whole organization to question their current vision and reassess whether it was truly shared.

In order for champions to share what they know about what one of The Five Practices means, they have to know what they are talking about. And to that end, they read and think about the practice which, essentially, achieves the goal of exposing them to The Leadership Challenge.

This organization since has asked that another workshop (albeit a shortened version of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop) be presented to senior-level executives. Now that it is their idea, it will take on a whole new meaning. Executives will want to attend-not because they have to learn new leadership skills but because they see the value.

One of the reasons that the value of The Leadership Challenge is more evident is because we also have successfully integrated a follow-through process on commitments and goals.

  • We used the 'Friday 5s' follow-through process which helped hold participants accountable for putting commitments into practice. We know that it takes practice to change behavior and this process got results that can be seen and measured. Managers of the participants had to learn about what The Five Practices were all about, at least enough to understand what people had committed to. That meant they also had to educate themselves.
  • The workshop facilitators became on-line coaches for the Friday 5s follow-through process so they could offer suggestions, recommendations, and encouragement that reinforced teaching points originally presented in the workshop.
  • Combined, these steps provided real change in behavior, processes are being challenged, and the workforce is more engaged and encouraged. And with word spreading about the results, leaders want to attend an upcoming Leadership Challenge® Workshop, including the executives.

4. Finally, gain support from senior leadership to attend the graduation event and present certificates. We use the process described in the Facilitator Guide, including bombarding each recipient with positive affirmations. When executives see this positive experience, they are motivated to attend other events. Moreover, each participant shares one of their commitment goals and makes a public statement about the value of the workshop. This also demonstrates to executives the workshop's value in generating commitment to achieving results.

These are a few of the ways that we all can work to involve senior-level executives-even those reluctant to see the value in this type of workshop training.

Focus on allies, not resisters. They learn about The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. And when the experience creates interest and excitement-when it becomes their idea-they will get on board.

Stephen Hoel is president of Diversity Leadership Consultants and a Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop. Experienced in both operations management and human resources with Walt Disney World Resort, Hilton, Marriott and other independent hotel and restaurant organizations, he has designed and delivered leadership and team interventions and multicultural leadership development initiatives. He can be reached at shoel13@aol.com.

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