Developing Young Leaders in a Growing Company

Vikas Joshi
March 23, 2011

If the transition of a manager from tactical management to strategic management is big, an earlier career transition from contributor to manager is even bigger. A learning event at Harbinger, known as the Emerging Leader Workshop, brings home this truth to participants by letting them experience this transition in a simulated environment. Sort of like a sneak peek into their future as a leader.

Here is a quick description of the general format of the Emerging Leader Workshop.

This program targets junior staff members with three to six years of work experience, who have excelled as individual contributors in a certain function such as sales, engineering or tech support; and have a potential to get ready for moving up. They meet on six to eight Saturdays for the workshop, typically spread over three to four months.

Each meeting lasts three-quarters of a day and has five parts. The contents vary depending on audience background.

1. Situational response

Given a realistic business situation, how do you combine your prior knowledge,  skills and judgment to arrive at an appropriate response? A typical example could involve responding to a project crisis involving multiple parameters such as customer expectations and team morale.

2. Problem solving

Use your analytical skills (and lateral thinking) to get to a solution of a well-defined problem in your area of work. For example, allocation of resources against a complex work schedule.

3. Written communication exercise

Prepare business-quality documentation of various types. Examples could vary from software release notes to announcements appreciating team member contributions to a project.

4. Research-based presentation exercise

Use the Internet and other resources to find material related to a technical topic and prepare a presentation with a coherent theme, such as applications of a cutting-edge technology, or competitive landscape in a particular product category.

5. Discussion on company values

Understand company values and find out how they translate into decisions made when the management is faced with a choice. Internalize the values by applying them to decision making situations.

The method for teaching each part is different. Several formats have been used, including case study, individual exercises, group projects, group discussions and lecture sessions.

Previous graduates of the program act as observers, and rate the participants on their performance during the program every day. At the end of the day's session, they convey feedback one-on-one, helping the participant understand his/her strengths and areas of improvement.

Participants that form a learning team are not necessarily co-workers, and their observer may not be a superior at work. We mix them up.

Occasionally, a bonus session features screening of a documentary or a movie after which people socialize, dine and discuss what they saw.

Already in its 4th year, the results of the Emerging Leader Workshop have been remarkable. Participants report a much better appreciation of the manager's role, a greater identification with the organization as a whole, a desire to play a leadership role, a sense of learning something new and a mindset change. Some participants have shown a remarkable improvement in presentation abilities, yet others have developed a more positive outlook.

Many times individual contributors are too comfortable in the job they are good at, and there is no impetus to want to get into leadership. The Emerging Leader Workshop delivers just that.

Valediction usually involves participant's speeches and presentation of a bonus and a memento.

Anybody aware of other programs or has ideas that could be launched through Emerging Leader Workshop?