November 22, 2006

RESEARCH: SUPERVISORS ARE VITAL TO LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT AND EVALUATION

"Leadership development needs to be conceived, designed, delivered, and evaluated with the role of the supervisor in mind and included," say Drs. Larry Peters and John Baum, management professors at the Neeley School of Business at TCU, in a chapter in The Handbook of Leadership Development Evaluation, Jossey-Bass & Center for Creative Leadership, 2007.

Since it is historically difficult to find tangible and quantifiable data supporting leadership development efforts, Peters and Baum offer a new logic for producing measurable results. For leadership development to be effective, you need both effective leadership development activities and a business environment that supports application of those development efforts.

Even if a development activity is exceptional and helps develop meaningful leadership skills, it may not be enough if participants return to an organization where people are given limited opportunities to lead and/or are discouraged from taking initiative.
You can't send a changed person back into an unchanged organization and expect to see
different behavior or results.

But, what part of the organization do you have to change to support
leadership development efforts? Peters and Baum point to participants'
direct supervisor as the key for producing measurable ROI.

"It is the difference between potential and performance," say Peters and Baum. Developmental activities can create the potential for better leadership, but the local context can either stifle any performance of lessons learned, or encourage and support the performance of those lessons. If participants in development activities see no near-term incentive to apply their newly developed skills, they will leave what they learned at the door of the training site. If they cannot see a long-term career advantage for leading, they are likely to compartmentalize their leadership development from their daily work.

This new logic of leadership development says organizational context may be just as important, if not more important, than the quality of the development program itself, and the direct supervisor is the most important factor of all. Direct supervisors are the key because they are the "face" of the organization to their employees and provide focus by setting the employees' work agendas and goals. They can provide
the opportunities to apply leadership lessons.

Peters and Baum present two case studies in which supervisors were designed into the development process. In both cases, the executive sponsors declared that the organizational returns were well in excess of the investment costs, even though no formal attempts were made to calculate traditional ROI.

"We can no longer be satisfied with leadership development that walls off participants from on-the-job opportunities, no matter how relevant the content or how good the delivery," conclude Peters and Baum. This doesn't mean formal leadership programs and workshops are irrelevant but that they need to intentionally link lessons learned about leadership to the actual activity of leading within the organization.

What can supervisors do to improve leadership development after training?

    1) See themselves as stewards of their organization's investment in development activities.

    2) Take an active role in helping their employees apply their learning.

    3) Encourage and be supportive of leadership efforts.

    4) Work with employees to specifically identify projects for the employee to initiate, identify expected results
        and milestones, and clarify what it will look like when the projects are successful.

Professors Peters and Baum contribute to leadership development and executive education programs within the
Neeley School.

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Elaine Cole
Public Relations Manager
Neeley School of Business at TCU
817-257-5724
e.cole@tcu.edu