In an organisation, the CEO is, as the title suggests, the chief. Their depth and breadth of experience has exposed them to all manner of leadership development, from the very good to the very poor. And, as chief executive, they need to be the primary sponsor of their organisation’s investment in leadership development.

Those CEOs committed to this idea may be surprised to learn the results of a recent Korn Ferry survey. Of the 7,500 respondents, the majority rated the results of leadership-development investments in their organisations as being “fair” to “very poor”. As a further blow to CEOs, respondents cited “lack of executive sponsorship” as the chief roadblock to leadership-development success.

In addition, only 17% of respondents – a quarter of whom were C-suite executives, and about a third of whom were next-level executives – were confident their organisations had the right leadership capabilities to execute strategic business priorities.

It seems the very people who should be the sponsors of leadership development may be one of its main obstacles. And the problem is not about investing financial resources but about ownership and accountability by the most senior individuals.

Jane Stephenson is Korn Ferry’s Global Leader for CEO Succession and Vice Chairman, Board and CEO Services, and has made an in-depth analysis of CEO performance in relation to employee development.

She offers the following suggestions to promote rather than impede development efforts, and thereby reap the benefits.

  1. Don’t think of leadership development as a stand-alone process

    When most effective, the process is inextricably linked to the business strategy, and is crucial to its success. Too many organisations treat leadership development as an appendage – something that’s “nice to have” rather than the essential element it is. Strategic business needs will determine the leadership profiles required, and development should be tailored accordingly. It’s all connected to a company’s business outcomes, and so, as with any other critical business process, the results need to be measurable.

  2. Shift your mindset and that of the leadership team

    The CEO and his or her team should be collaborating to create a deeply engrained culture of talent development – a joint journey, not an item on a “to-do” list managed separately by the CHRO. Just as the right fuel is required for an engine to work at maximum efficiency, so effective leadership development is required to ensure an organisation has the skills and pipeline bandwidth for growth.

  3. Leadership development happens in real time

    While there are many excellent leadership-development programs, they are not, in themselves, sufficient. The journey must carry over into the real world. Your business is the laboratory for leadership development; in essence, it’s a living case study that is continually unfolding. It creates the path to the business results you desire, and is less about judgment after the fact, and more about proactively building and supporting the right operating capabilities so that the odds of achieving desired outcomes are significantly increased. Said differently, there should be an obvious and direct link between leadership development, the activation of the business strategy, and what the leaders actually deliver.

  4. Strive to become a leadership-academy company and so gain advantage

    Think of effective leadership development as both an insurance policy on the success of your strategic priorities, and a valuable tool in recruiting and retaining the best talent in the market. The executives with the highest potential are those who most want to build their leadership skills, expertise, and overall careers.

CEOs should understand not only the link between leadership development and performance but also their own hands-on role in the process. Leadership development cannot be wholly outsourced to Learning and Development or HR teams. Ensuring leadership development is embedded in the strategy, so ultimately, it is the CEO – the chief – who needs to ensure it happens.