I want, you want, we all want leaders and managers who can think strategically, help others navigate complexity, create inclusivity, and genuinely provide an environment where individuals and teams are intrinsically motivated to excel. Add in the ability to assist their organizations in navigating the uncertainty inherent in today’s world, and you’ve got a winner.
Unfortunately, mostly what we get from our approaches and investment in leader development falls significantly short of this ideal model. Checkbox-training, loose mentoring initiatives and inconsistent application of coaching, are reflective of the practices in many organizations I encounter.
A long career in management plus a series of life experiences find me wondering just how wrong we can be when it comes to leadership development in our organizations. There must be a better way, and I find some of the answers in the clinic model as exemplified by leading healthcare organizations.
Jeffrey Pfeffer effectively debunks today’s broader leadership enterprise and approach in our world with his data-driven research reflected in his book, Leadership B.S.
Survey after survey of CEOs suggests developing leadership talent is mission critical for future success. Many of those same surveys describe the reality that organizations are falling far short of meeting their needs for leader development.
Moving Away from Check-Box Compliance
My experience gained in the trenches over three-decades in the tech sector corroborates Pfeffer’s conclusions. I spent gobs of money on training, coaching, and outside resources, yet in hindsight, I perceive I was complicit in the game of event and check-box development.
It wasn’t evil intent—no conscientious objective professional or executive disagrees with the goal of developing more and more effective leaders—but it was an outcome of poor prioritization and a general lack of whole-person thinking about leader development. And while we sent people to some remarkable training and coaching organizations, those were prestigious checkmarks, not sustaining and whole-person approaches.
Instead of spot or check-box type approaches, all leadership development must address these two core issues:
- The development efforts must take into account the whole person.
- The experience must be guided and sustained over time, with the right tools and approaches prescribed at the right point in time.
Easy words. Not so simple to achieve in practice, and not achievable with our traditional thinking and approaches.
The Clinic Model
In a series of life experiences recently, I’ve concluded there’s a very different and potentially revolutionary model for leadership development, and it’s drawn from the world of clinic-delivered healthcare. Think: Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic, or other institutions that use a similar format.
Put on your analogic thinking cap for a few minutes and let’s walk through the case to rethink our delivery of leadership development based on a very different and powerful model.
Typical healthcare delivery is not integrated and highly discombobulated.
Anyone who has navigated (or helped someone navigate) what I term the “Doc-in-a-Box” shuffle in search of answers to an unexplained malady understands how complicated and frustrating this process is for all parties.
You shuffle from specialist-to-specialist seeking answers but mostly gaining new questions. And while your general practitioner likely started you on this journey, they typically remain distant stakeholders. One test and specialist begets several others, and before you know it, you’ve burned weeks or months of time in pursuit of a diagnosis and coherent approach to dealing with what’s ailing you.
(Personal note: I feel bitterness toward this practice of medicine because of how it adversely impacted my mother and my son. In my mother’s case, so-called quality doctors sent her from test-to-test for months only to ultimately uncover what proved to be terminal ovarian cancer. In my son’s case, Doc-in-a-Box handling of his Crohn’s disease ended up in a life-threatening event including a horrifying helicopter ride and a multi-year, multi-surgery scenario.)
Personal experiences aside, any person navigating this shuffle knows the process is slow, inefficient and horribly frustrating. In some cases, the outcome is terminal.
Contrast this frustrating, and disempowering process with the Mayo Clinic (and the approach of other clinic-style organizations), and the differences are profound. The clinic model is predicated on the integration of specialties with tight coordination and communication between specialists. (Remember this point.)
As a veteran customer of Mayo’s Executive Health program (which sometimes feel like an extended exercise in food and sleep deprivation), I remain fascinated by both how well this system works and operationally, how it works.
Theirs is a model that with a bit of critical thinking I can envision serving as inspiration for new approaches to leader and talent development.
How It Works
Pre-visit surveys, early visit records review, extensive interviewing with your primary doctor are followed by tightly managed and coordinated specialty visits and testing. You leave your initial hour-long interview with your primary doctor armed with a college schedule-like listing of tests.
As you navigate the battery of tests and appointments, your primary doctor is constantly apprised of your results (as are you via your tablet or smartphone) and able to adjust subsequent visits and tests accordingly.
At the end of the process, there’s a (daunting in my case) list of your issues and a clear set of recommendations for your ongoing management and healthcare. The post-testing interview with your primary clinic doctor is the foundation for your healthcare strategy moving forward.
There’s always someone watching over the “whole” you and gaining insights from other experts that factor into your future-care.
Subsequent visits are linked with the earlier results and recommendations, to build a picture of your progress over time.
It is a great model.
Why don’t we use this approach for leadership and talent development?
Developing the Whole Professional
In my article, “It’s Manager and Leader—Developing the Whole Professional," I suggest four major, high-level areas of emphasis for development:
- Operational agility
- Strategic and critical thinking
- Communication adaptability
- Leadership flexibility
Strip out skip any one of these, and you have something less than a whole manager and whole leader.
Traditional training and mentoring models and spot-coaching approaches fall woefully short of supporting much less integrating development across those areas and over time.
Developing the awareness, skills, knowledge of approaches and ultimately competence in those areas demands a whole-person approach, best guided by a focused coach with access to experts and specialists in the four disciplines.
The emerging leader is assigned a primary sponsor (coach) along with a team of specialist coaches (internal or external), each with expertise in one of the four disciplines: leadership, strategic and critical thinking, operational agility, and communication.
This team owns the development of the whole professional, with the primary sponsor serving as the quarterback to ensure coordination, collaboration, and integration of the development work.
This process is a multi-year endeavor including regular check-ups and timely refresh of the developmental activities as the various specialists gauge and report back on progress and growth or uncover gaps.
This approach solves the training issue expressed earlier, by ensuring training is relevant and tightly integrated with the individual’s overall development program.
In practice, it will make all aspects of coaching, mentoring, and job-rotation relevant because they are tailored to the individual’s situation at a point in time.
Much as the Mayo Clinic and other fine healthcare organizations do everything to meet the needs of their patients, the integrated, multi-disciplinary approach in our new Leader Development Clinic model focuses on delivering the right developmental tool at the right time based on the unique and changing needs of the emerging leader. No more training and development shuffle.
I understand the complexity and cost implications of my analogic thinking here very well. And truth-in-advertising, this idea came to me in a food-deprived state at my recent multi-day physical.
I also understand the cost of not getting this right. The bill will come due in the form of sub-optimal performance or in some cases, survival. Just as the Doc-in-a-Box Shuffle is potentially fatal, so are analogous approaches to leadership and talent development.
The development and delivery of this model might be best handled by external entities—a true Mayo Clinic-like organization for leader and talent development. There are several organizations that come close, yet, don’t quite reach what I envision.
Larger organizations with deep pockets might reorient their budgets and efforts to this clinic model for leader development.
And for smaller resources or younger firms, the whole-person thinking and sustained development, evaluation, and development approach can be baked into the values, hiring, and actions of those building the organizations.
I can think of a million reasons why this might not work. I bounced it off a senior executive coach I hold in high regard, and she produced some serious objections. Regardless, my perspective is one of, “What if?” Imagine if we can shed old, costly ways of doing things and do a better job building leaders, and as a result, build organizations fit for people in this era of change.