Typically, our view of leadership development encompasses the escalation of current high performers into an environment where they can develop a broader set of competencies and capabilities. In many organizations, the senior leaders aim to manage the perception of the issues, form coalitions, and use relationships to influence change in the organization. Without “relationships and influence,” they are without arrows in their managerial quiver. In our experience, however, we have found that many leadership development programs fail to include the quantifiable and strategic value of business relationships – not only as another bucket or segment of the curriculum, but also as a part of the encompassing framework in the development of the next generation of corporate leaders. In other words, you could be the most astute financial leader, operations leader, manufacturing executive or complex project owner, but if you lack the ability to proactively and systematically identify, build, and nurture personal, functional, and strategic relationships to influence others, I am not convinced of our fully realized long-term success in any organization.

The increasing diversity of today’s workforce makes it that much more critical that our future leaders can effectively engage those who don’t look, sound, or think like us and lead them toward a common set of strategic goals and objectives. In addition to providing cultural diversity, key individuals with unique perspectives and insights can accelerate any leader’s ability to achieve results. We call these people Pivotal Contacts.

In researching dozens of Fortune 500 leadership development programs, we found many to be myopic in their perspective and focused purely on safe topics such as strategy, financial engineering, and global expansion. Many try to elevate your thinking, executing from the purely tactical (what we are doing) to the more strategic (why we are doing this). Then there is the holistic approach that questions not just the ability, but the social responsibility aspects as well. Although extremely beneficial to current high performers and those perceived to be high potentials, these questions don’t include a systematic, disciplined approach to functional and strategic relationships.

Strategic relationships are seldom part of any personal evaluations we have reviewed to date. Nor are they part of any compensation model we have seen, at least no compensation plan that actually moves one’s needle (a 5 percent variable is not really an incentive). They are not part of a human resource organization’s competency maps, nor formal mentoring programs aimed at raising the bar on key functional leaders today. Unless the appropriate metrics and rewards are in place to accurately align the organization’s goals and objectives with that of the individual in a highly relationship-centric environment, how will we overcome this fundamental and often myopic perspective of world-class leadership development programs?

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