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In chaotic or unpredictable times, informal approaches to leadership development don’t work. Leadership development doesn’t happen without a plan—even in the best of times. Add a little chaos or uncertainty to the mix in a complex industry like construction, and leadership development falls off a cliff.

Ironically, difficult times are when strong leadership matters most. Construction businesses that put off leadership development “until things settle down” are effectively cutting off solutions at the source. It’s not a sound bet to bank on surviving a challenging season without strong leadership.

“Above all, there’s a clear message that leaders at every level—from emerging high potentials to the C-suite—are looking for clarity in development and promotion decisions. In a chaotic environment, informal approaches aren’t working well. Rather, the need for deeper leadership strategy must come from the top as CEOs, CHROs and their boards work together to strengthen the backbone of their workforce: their leaders,” concludes the CEO Leadership Report 2021, published by Development Dimensions International, Inc.

Only one in three CEOs (34%) consider their organization’s frontline leadership quality “very good” or “excellent.” At the mid-level, CEOs rate only 38% of mid-level leadership quality highly, with a slightly higher view of the senior team at 58%.

The report also found that “Developing future talent is an imperative for CEOs. Top executives expressed concern about the quality of frontline and mid-level leadership quality. However, leadership development approaches are often piecemeal, with increasing emphasis on individuals to pursue their own development rather than offering organizational support.”

So how do construction leaders gain clarity on leadership development in any environment? Below are four questions executive construction leaders can ask to create a clear leadership development plan in any environment.

1) What key roles are needed?

It is a waste of time and resources to train NextGen leaders in skills or roles that will be obsolete. A clear leadership development plan not only looks at what roles are needed now, but also what roles will be needed in the future. What roles do not yet exist in a company that will be necessary in the future? A human resources executive may need to be groomed for a role as a chief people officer, for instance. A company may need to augment its sales team with a chief revenue officer. Mapping what roles are needed now and comparing them to what roles will be needed in the future brings clarity to the direction of talent development.

2) Who should fill key roles?

It is only when a leader identifies who to prepare that development can begin. A leadership development plan is a strategy for developing specific people, not just roles. A general idea of who might fill a role is not a leadership development plan. Also, an uncommunicated leadership development plan is meaningless. If a person being developed doesn’t want a role, it is a waste of time and effort to groom them for that role. Communication is key to clarity.

3) What skills are required for key roles?

The skills required to run a small team or a single department do not automatically transfer to the C-suite. There is a large knowledge gap between managing a specific aspect of a business versus leading an entire company. NextGen leaders need to know about strategy, operations, recruiting, retention and business development. NextGen leaders also need to be trained in leadership, communication and people management. Leadership development must also include training in soft skills such as asking good questions, planning engaging meetings and giving meaningful feedback. A clear leadership development plan compares current skills of NextGen leaders with the skills required for future roles to determine what skill gaps exist.

4) How much time is needed to prepare the NextGen?

Time is not a renewable resource. It’s here, then it’s gone. There is no two-day shipping option on great leaders. It takes time to develop employees into leaders. NextGen leaders—need time to understand how their company is structured, how it works, what the organizational chart is now and what it should be in the future. It takes a total of 10 to 20 years of experience and training to develop professionals who just entered the industry into executive leaders. It takes a minimum of three years to prepare NextGen leaders for executive roles, but can require more than five years in many cases. Preparing a NextGen executive to be a CEO requires no less than two to three years. A clear leadership development plan includes accurate timelines for development milestones.

Asking clear questions elicits clear planning. Clear leadership development planning builds effective leaders, even in the most chaotic of times.

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