Diversity and Inclusion | Why Leadership Programs Matter

The true sign of a successful leader is not to create followers, but to develop more leaders. By inspiring and empowering individuals to want to become leaders, we ensure the continuity and legacy of our businesses. However, while inspiration and empowerment are crucial to motivating the leaders of the future, a goal without a plan is simply a pipe dream.

We’re reaching a precarious time where many of the leaders in our organizations are on the verge of retirement. As the baby boomer generation is so substantial, this leaves a significant gap in succession. Furthermore, these leaders are taking with them years of on-the-job experience, education, and knowledge.

For these reasons, and the ones following, it is essential to invest in leadership programs.


Leadership Programs Improve Diversity

Leadership programs ensure that everyone gets a fair shot, regardless of gender, socioeconomic standing, or race. While having a diverse organizational culture that promotes leadership development looks good on the business, that is hardly the reason why people should be striving toward this goal.

The overall impact on your business comes not from your policies, but from your people. Plenty of research has been conducted on the positive impacts of having a diverse workplace culture, most notably an overall improvement on the bottom line of diverse businesses. Having a diverse workplace improves employee morale and retention, and facilitates different perspectives which directly benefit problem solving and innovation.


Training vs. Development

Many companies miss the mark on leadership development work because they focus on leadership training. The difference, you ask? When you provide leadership training, you’re feeding someone the company line and asking them to fit a mold. When you develop leadership skills, you are planting the seed for leadership growth, nourishing the soil, and watching them bloom. Rather than directing people, you are simply providing a form of navigation while setting your future leaders on their own journey.

Training may last for three days in a conference room whereas leadership development is ongoing. Training focuses on correcting problems of the past while development helps people anticipate and problem solve for issues that haven’t yet come to light. Training is a facilitator talking at you, and development is a coach or mentor speaking with you to help build the future you want while helping the business thrive.

Positive change doesn’t happen from writing policies and scheduling the bare minimum in training protocols. It happens from creating a shift in the way your business operates.


Working with a Leadership Consulting Company

To effectively implement change, you need to bring in someone who isn’t impacted by the way your business currently runs. A consultant with experience in leadership development can take a high-level assessment of your business and identify issues that you can’t because you’re too involved in the daily grind. Then, they can help you design, implement, and maintain a program to improve your business through leadership development.

When searching for a potential consultant, ask the following questions:

  • What does change mean to you?

  • How will their services help the organization implement and maintain the changes you suggest?

  • What are the potential sticking points and pushbacks?

  • At what level of the organizational hierarchy will you start to implement these changes?

Before you ask a consultant anything, be sure to ask yourself, “is who we are getting in the way of what we can accomplish? Do they understand my business?”


Top Business-Led Leadership Development Programs

Now that you know the whys and hows of implementing a leadership development program, let’s take a look at some big businesses who are doing it right:

Bank of America

Every year, the Bank of America opens enrolment to their Bank of America Student Leaders program for high school students. Participants-- referred to as Student Leaders-- complete an eight-week paid internship with a non-profit organization. This gives them work experience and helps students engage in something relevant and meaningful, allowing them to give back to their community while honing their leadership skills. To cap off the eight-week program, students receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the weeklong Student Leaders Summit in Washington, DC.

This program opens doors to visible minorities, students from economically and socially challenged families, and creates an atmosphere of diversity and inclusion. The Bank of America understands that to create a more inclusive and diverse future, we need to start with the younger generation and let the change grow over time.

Eli Lilly & Co.

Lilly is a biotechnology research company that helps develop medications and conduct clinical research. They are forward-thinking in both diversity and inclusion matters, as well as leadership development. In addition to identifying the major flaw with a lack of diversity in clinical trials, they also identified a lack of diversity in the physicians conducting them. As a result, the minorities who often have different reactions to illnesses based on hereditary features are underrepresented in research.

As a result, Lilly has implemented both a strategy to work with a more diverse arrangement of individuals in their clinical trials as well as a training program for minority physicians to conduct the trials. The program helps these physicians develop their leadership skills, broadening their field and changing the future of medical research.

General Electric

General Electric is a household name which is also renowned for its many leadership programs. In addition to training and internships meant for students, they also have the Digital Technology Leadership Program (DTLP). This two-year program teaches participants software development and information technology skills, as well as business and leadership skills. It provides continual feedback and opens the door to international work experience.

Despite being over a century old, General Electric has truly adapted the modern startup atmosphere and is constantly adapting to suit the various generations within their business. The program gives participants experience working with different teams and incorporates students from 32 different countries. This program not only opens doors to visible minorities but addresses the issues with a lack of women in the tech industry.


Make a Change

The leaders of tomorrow hold the fate of your business in their hands. That level of responsibility can be a weighty load. Your job as a current leader is not to reduce that load, but ensure the future leaders are strong enough to carry it forward. If you do your job right, they may even come up with an innovative way to make carrying that load a little easier, as long as you help them develop the skills they need.

To find out more about creating a leadership development program focusing on diversity and inclusion in your organization, contact Meredith Wailes at N2Growth.