July 2022

Is the same course right for all levels of leadership?

by Ken Smith

In 2021, Academy Leadership selected Custom Data Processing (CDP) as one of our Leadership Excellence Partner Award winners. One of the reasons they were selected was because they had leaders at multiple levels participate in the program. The three levels included the top 3 (CEO, CFO and President), 11 of their direct reports (VPs and directors), and 6 managers that report to VPs and directors.

One of the big questions they had was, "should they conduct the same program for people at different levels or conduct a different Academy Leadership course based upon their experience and/or level in the organization?" After some good discussions, CDP decided to do two iterations of the same program, the Leadership Excellence Course. This turned out to be a very wise decision.

The benefits include:

Program content is similar for each course, but the conversations take on a life of their own based upon the course participants. Each level in the organization has different experiences, responsibilities and challenges. Although the conversations may change during each course, the core foundational lessons continue to unite all participants. As the program lessons begin to permeate the organization, you start to educate what I call "second generation" participants (or even third and fourth generation). When a Leadership Excellence Course participant's boss has already gone through the program, that boss is able to coach and guide their direct reports before, during, and after the course. The facilitator's coaching is augmented by the participant's growing relationship with their own boss and the transparency and support within the organization.

One attendee had the advantage of being a second generation participant. Her supervisor attended the Leadership Excellence Course previously. I asked her what she saw differently after attending herself and what she looked forward to...

"I think the interaction was better after she took the program, even for me. I thought I understood the leadership part, but there were some key things that I was missing. One is to meet people where they are and then bring them where I want them to be, but at their pace. I learned a lot about myself, and I think I built a better relationship with the people on my team as well."
-Bennita Drain, Senior Software QA Engineer, CDP

In general, programs work best when no more than 2 levels of an organization are present in any one program. A leader and his direct reports make for a fantastic dynamic, regardless of the level of experience or responsibility within the organization. If a program has participants whose experience is too advanced or diverse, junior leaders may be less likely to speak up and share their own ideas. Participants tend to be more actively engaged when participating with their peers or immediate supervisors.

The Leadership Excellence Course is effective at all levels of leadership provided that the organization works with Academy Leadership facilitators to effectively plan attendance at each course and then then construct a schedule of programs to maximize the value to the organization and the individual participants. When this happens, productivity and collaboration improve, and value is maximized for everyone...from the CEO on down.