Are Your Future Leaders Getting Enough Leadership Opportunities? On the face of it, this might seem like a strange question, but once you consider it there is merit in asking. At every level, there is a jump for staff members to take when moving into a new leadership role. This is part of what makes hiring from within so hard when filling the void left by an outgoing manager. With that comes inexperience in a range of scenarios, and often there is little room for error as a few small mistakes or missed steps can lead to a loss of respect and belief from the people in your team.
So, how do you give your future leaders the experience they need to transition into leadership roles when they open up? And what elements need to be combined to create an effective training experience to improve management skills?
This was a challenge that we recently had put to us by PepsiCo, one of our experiential learning clients, as they were looking to improve their future leaders’ management abilities in the following areas:
- Talent Development
- Coaching others to improve their problem solving
- Pushing individuals outside of their comfort zone
- Observing and listening to give better feedback
- Collaborating effectively towards a shared goal
- Actively listening and welcoming diverse ideas
Having reviewed these challenges, it was clear that enrolling PepsiCo’s future leaders in external mentoring projects (where they were the mentors) would provide them with the right exposure to develop the leadership abilities they needed. We did this through the Ethical Angel platform, which has been designed to take the needs of global causes and turn them into learning opportunities, in the form of projects, for employees in businesses that work with us. For example, if a charity, social enterprise or other good cause needs support (in areas such as mentoring, strategy, policy creation or marketing), they can request it through Ethical Angel. The platform then takes this request and turns it into a project which develops specific skills before matching it to employees who need to develop those skills.
This allowed us to provide PepsiCo's future leaders with real-world mentoring opportunities, where they mentored other leaders and senior employees in a number of our partner causes (including the RSPCA). The results of the mentoring projects were extremely impressive, with future leaders reporting as much as a 54% improvement in some soft skills. So, why is external mentoring so effective for developing leadership skills?
The Benefits of External Mentoring for Leadership Skills
Increased Exposure to Management Scenarios
One of the greatest challenges of moving into more senior management roles is the lack of exposure to management scenarios that you are expected to take in your stride from day one, and often these scenarios occur infrequently so on-the-job practice isn't a realistic training approach. This makes learning how to deal with these scenarios a huge challenge, and theoretical learning is no better as it simply cannot prepare you for the real thing. This is where experiential learning, in the form of external mentoring, excels as it makes it possible to put future leaders in many of the scenarios that they will have to deal with in their role. This is exactly what we were able to achieve with PepsiCo, as Ethical Angel provided their future leaders with the opportunity to mentor other senior leaders, something which was not realistic internally.
Creation of a Safe Learning Environment
Secondly, external mentoring provides a safe space where future leaders and managers are not scrutinised by their own colleagues or managers. This gives future leaders room to experiment, to make mistakes, and to learn from them. In addition to this, it removes any pre-existing behaviours and working practices, allowing more freedom and taking employees outside of their comfort zone. This forces them to adapt to new environments and the challenges that come with them. These two factors were hugely influential for PepsiCo, which was highlighted in a recent interview with Andrew Collier, Head of L&D for PepsiCo Europe, who said "External mentoring with Ethical Angel is safer, because it’s more protected, so it gives people the opportunity to experiment a little bit more to try things out and make mistakes”.
High Stakes Real-world Learning
And finally, external mentoring creates a level of realism that wouldn't exist in theoretical learning or internal exercises as it brings tangible deliverables for real causes. By bringing this realism into the mix, it's possible to create a 'high stakes environment' that leads to a more engaging and applicable learning environment, which in turn provides effective and rapid opportunities for learning and development. This was another area that was hugely influential for PepsiCo, which was highlighted by Jennifer Stevens, L&D Manager for PepsiCo Europe, who said “Ethical Angel enabled us to have real situations and work with them, and the fact that they were real meant that we could make a real difference and positively impact someone. A lot of the leaders that took part commented on how much they enjoyed that they were being a force for good”.
So, we come back to the question that we started with in this article. Are your future leaders getting enough leadership opportunities? Based on many normal business structures, the answer is probably no. That is an unfortunate reality of the structure of business. However, PepsiCo has shown that by embracing innovation and taking a different approach to training, it is possible to overcome this and provide future leaders with valuable exposure to situations they will have to deal with as they climb the corporate ladder.
To find out more about how PepsiCo was able to harness the power of experiential learning for their future leaders, download the full case study.