Up Your Game: A New Model for Leadership

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Up Your Game: A New Model for Leadership

In a blog I posted a few weeks ago, I looked at what skills the future-ready leader needs and why current L&D programs struggle to develop them. In this blog, I define a new model for developing leaders in the workplace—and how this approach leads to a more productive and effective organization.

Most of us have felt the impact of technology on the work we do—and on how we do it. Digitalization, automation, and artificial intelligence are disrupting every industry. And organizations are dramatically reorganizing themselves to be able to respond quickly to market pressures and stay competitive.

The way companies think about leadership is also changing. The traditional command-and-control approach no longer works. Ideas and innovation are being driven by the frontlines, not by the top down.

Frontline leaders have greater responsibility, pressures, and decision-making power than ever before. Yet many aren’t equipped with the skills to lead effectively.

Leadership Development for All Managers

Traditional leadership development programs weren’t built for the needs of organizations today. Approaches tend to be episodic and short term, such as one-off trainings or workshops for a select group of senior management. These programs typically lack follow-through, only scratch the surface on skill development, and shoehorn too much information all at once. Most are designed for efficiency, a one-size-fits-all approach that’s removed from the realities of everyday work.

Companies must think more broadly—and redefine who they view as leaders and their approach to developing them.

This sounds like a tall order, and it is. Historically, the most effective leadership development programs, such as executive coaching, were reserved for the top ranks and were not scalable across a company.

At BetterUp, we have worked to change that. Using research from across the behavioral sciences, as well as from advances in technology, we built a new model for leadership development that enables organizations to effectively develop the leadership capabilities of the many—not just of a few at the top.

Delivered through a mobile-based SaaS platform, BetterUp provides highly personalized leadership development at scale. This includes one-to-one coaching, immersive learning, and analytics so that organizations can better understand the developmental needs of their people leaders and the progress they are making.

BetterUp’s evidence-based development model is grounded in the latest research for behavioral science and neuroscience, designed to facilitate and sustain lasting behavior change. These research-backed principles combine to create a model that can help organizations achieve the outcomes they want: increased retention, reduced burnout and stress, and improved productivity and engagement.

Here are those truths—and why they are core to effectively developing leaders in the workplace today:

Development must be personalized and happen in the flow of work. Each one of us has different strengths and challenges, and our readiness for change varies. Learning must start where we are and be applied in the context of our individual lives. We learn best through our unique daily challenges and experiences, versus learning in a classroom and translating it to real life afterwards.

Change is a process that needs time and practice. Science shows that lasting change is a process that involves multiple stages of development. First we learn about—and become more aware of—ourselves. Then we must practice new skills over and over for them to become habits and part of who we are. Given that a new behavior takes about 66 days to become automatic, it could take months for more complex behaviors to stick.

Learning must be bite-size. Instead of trying to tackle multiple skills at once, people need to focus on learning one new behavior at a time. Researchers have found that people who tried to accomplish multiple behaviors were less committed and less likely to succeed than those who focused on a single behavior.

Growth happens by developing the whole person. There is no leadership development without self-development. The effectiveness of a leader is only as strong as their growth as a person. Leaders today need a combination of strong soft skills and technical capabilities in order to be effective. Developing skills such as resiliency, a growth mindset, communication, and empathy will help leaders better plan, coach teams, and flex when conditions change.

Coaching and accountability accelerate development. Science shows that the support of one-to-one coaching helps to create lasting behavior change—especially in helping people define personalized goals and stay accountable to them. Hundreds of studies across a broad range of areas show that people are 2–3 times more likely to stick with new behaviors if they make a specific plan for when, where, and how they will perform the behavior. A coach is an expert in developing personalized plans and keeping people accountable for the repetition and practice required for lasting behavior change.

Measuring the ROI of Leadership Development

One of the core elements missing from leadership development programs today is the ability to measure results. BetterUp’s development model enables organizations to measure progress against skill development and specific business outcomes. Using the BetterUp platform, HR leaders can access dashboards to track metrics such as employee engagement and satisfaction, increases in skill development, and organizational impact.

Partnering with BetterUp, Workday introduced a leadership development program focused on people managers and was able to measure the development of specific skills. In 6 months, they increased managers’ agility by 7 percent, the ability to elevate their teams by 11 percent, and the drive to produce results by 12 percent.

AppDynamics also offered BetterUp to nearly 200 managers across the company, who completed 1,525 coaching sessions in 10 months. Data showed that managers reported a 6 percent increase in their own resilience, an 11 percent decrease in their feelings of burnout, and a 22 percent decrease in stress.

We are also studying the impact of BetterUp coaching against other leadership development programs such as trainings. The data shows significant differences in the outcomes. In one study, members who received BetterUp coaching increased their risk tolerance by 11 percent, growth mindset by 7%, and alignment with their team and the organization by 6 percent—all while reducing stress and burnout by 14 percent as compared to a group who received only professional training. Study results also showed that members’ intent to stay at their organizations also increased by 11 percent with coaching versus training.

While trainings can be valuable for some aspects of learning, coaching shows greater effectiveness at developing the soft skills that managers need to lead and individuals need to thrive.

The Time Is Now

Leading the new world of work is a job that involves all managers—from executives to frontline managers—and requires skills that are different from those of the past. The way organizations develop people has to evolve into a model that enables real growth and lasting change. We are excited to be a part of helping people develop into the best leaders they can be and empowering organizations to succeed.


To hear more on this topic, watch Chief Learning Officer’s webinar on-demand, “The Leadership Development Dilemma,” featuring Dr. Damian Vaughn, chief programs officer at BetterUp, recorded on Tuesday, June 25th, 2019.