The KISS Model of Leadership Development

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Has developing future leaders at your company become a complex web of activities?

With formal processes like 360-degree feedback processes, individual development plans, and high-potential candidate reviews, it’s no wonder that leaders feel swamped and put leadership development on the back burner. Or maybe you work for an organization that doesn’t have those formal practices and you’re on your own. Whether you are overwhelmed with the formal “to do’s” of developing your team’s leadership skills, or trying to figure it out on your own, there are immediate and uncomplicated things you can do to develop the leadership capabilities of your team. Go back to the basics: keep it simple.

The KISS Model of Leadership Development

Using a riff on the “Keep It Sweet and Simple” model (KISS), any leader, no matter the size of their organization or the availability of formal development practices, can create simple, effective leadership development opportunities for their team members. This model – which came straight out of my brain – and could also be called “common sense” –  is really about one’s development mindset: leadership development opportunities are all around us. 

Here’s your four-step plan:

Keep it real. Don’t fabricate a development opportunity. Look for real tasks and projects that people can lead. When people feel they’re making a difference on a “real” project, they’ll really step up.

Integrate into daily activities. Leadership ability is developed when people are nudged out of their comfort zone. Opportunities to strengthen someone’s leadership muscles are everywhere. Look around you— where can you delegate tasks that will build your team members’ skills in leading others?

Show them how it’s done. The best way a leader can develop others is by setting a good example. If you are modeling solid leadership practices, you are showing your team “this is what good leadership looks like.” Are you a positive leadership role model?

Start with small wins. “Big win” challenges don’t come along that often and when they do, you want to be sure your team members are ready for them. To prepare your team, start with low-risk leadership tasks.  Be on the look-out for ways your direct reports can achieve small successes that will accumulate into a portfolio of “wins”, which builds their confidence.

Developing Leaders for a Changing World

KISS development activities make an excellent companion to the formal training, mentoring, coaching and assessment activities offered by your organization. Think of the ideas suggested below as “layering” onto whatever your company already offers. These are not “in place of”, they’re “in addition to.” Plus, many of the ideas are free (bonus!), can be activated on your time schedule, and are limited only by your imagination. 

The latest research into emerging leadership development practices indicates that companies that use “vertical” development practices – those that intentionally cultivate agile leadership mindsets – are more likely to create a workforce ready to respond to today’s hyper-changing workplace. KISS development fits well with vertical development practices because it provides opportunities to develop higher level thinking that will allow employees to lead in a dynamic, complex and uncertain world.

Six Simple Ideas for Developing Leaders

  • Delegate the leading of department meetings to your team members. Rotate responsibility. Be open to team members’ ideas for conducting the meeting differently than you do – ask, “how would you like to lead this meeting?” and support their differing personalities and processes
  • Send one of your team members as a “proxy” to a cross-functional team you belong to. (Note: run this by the team’s leader first.)
  • Help your team members see leadership opportunities. “John, I noticed you didn’t speak up at the XYZ meeting. Why was that? It would have been a great opportunity to showcase your expertise on _____ and to demonstrate your leadership abilities.”
  • Have a super-star performer? Train them to be a coach/mentor to others on the team. 
  • When you see leadership, recognize it. Be sure to praise any leadership activity you see. When you say, “Susan, I appreciate the leadership you showed when you offered to help Tom out with that tough customer situation”, it helps Susan envision herself as a leader.
  • Encourage curiosity about the art of leadership; invite team members to discuss role models they respect (both inside and outside of work); ask them to focus not only on what the leaders do but who they are as individuals

Developing the next generation of leaders doesn’t need to be complex. But it does need to happen consistently. Use the KISS template and you’ll never lack ideas for ways to grow your team’s leadership skills.

Need personalized ideas for leadership development activities? Let’s talk.

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