The Importance of follow up in a Leader’s Improvement Journey

by Narayan Kamath 3 minutes read

Learning to learn from those around us, then modifying our behavior based on their suggestions is an effective way to change behavior. If we can teach the leader to reach out to coworkers, listen and learn, and focus on continuous development, both the leader and the organization will benefit. This process does not have to take a lot of time or money - there is something far more valuable: contact. Continuing with the essentials of Stakeholder Centered Coaching, we look at how regular and effective follow-up with stakeholders can accelerate a leader’s development.

This article is based on a study conducted by Marshall Goldsmith and his associates and published in 2004 (see Credits below). In an earlier (The Importance of Involving Stakeholders in a Leader's Improvement Journey) we have looked at the importance of engaging stakeholders in a leader’s development journey. To briefly summarize, the key reasons for involving stakeholders in a leader's improvement journey are: involving stakeholders is a natural choice given the interdependent nature of work; stakeholders as close observers have much to offer to the leader’s development; stakeholder’s constitute a natural accountability network; involving stakeholders helps the leader improve perceptions even as he improves his behaviors Two additional benefits of involving stakeholders are:

Engaging employees in developing their leaders is also a means of developing them as leaders. This is an effective way of cascading leadership from senior management to the organisation at large

Productivity tends to increase when employees perceive that their leaders are interested and involved in their work. Leaders who ask for input and follow-up to see if progress is being made are seen as people who care

Marshall Goldsmith and his associates conducted a review of the leadership development programs of eight different companies, covering 11480 leaders, ranging from mid-level to the CEO. The programs had the same overarching goals - determine the desired behaviors for leaders, and help increase their effectiveness by aligning actual practices with desired behaviors.

While the companies followed different approaches (off-site training vs on-site coaching, short vs long duration, internal vs external coaches, classroom based training vs on-the-job interaction), the common thread amongst all these programs, was that rather than measuring participants' satisfaction at the end of a program, each of the companies measured the participants’ perceived increase in leadership effectiveness over time. This increased effectiveness was not determined by the participants - it was assessed by predetermined co-workers and stakeholders.

From the review, one variable emerged as central to the achievement of positive long term change: follow up. Follow up refers to the efforts leaders make to solicit continuing and updated ideas for improvement from their coworkers. When comparing results, leaders who followed up were viewed by their colleagues as far more effective than leaders who did not follow up.

Leaders who had frequent or periodic/consistent interaction with co-workers were reliably seen as having improved their effectiveness far more than leaders who had little or no interaction with coworkers.

Some key insights from this study were:

For most leaders, the great challenge is not understanding the practice of leadership, it is practicing their understanding of leadership. Leaders who attended training and followed-up in terms of implementation were consistently perceived as having grown in effectiveness, compared to leaders who did not follow-up

The correlation of follow up with improved leadership effectiveness works across cultures- the study included leaders from North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia, and the correlation between follow up and increased effectiveness was evident across geographies

There is a strong correlation between the number of times the coach followed up with the client and the client followed-up with co-workers. Frequent and consistent follow-up by the coach, correlated well with the leaders' frequency and consistency of follow-up with co-workers

Both internal and external coaches can make a positive difference.While there are certain concerns when using internal coaches (time, credibility and confidentiality), there are organizations who have successfully addressed these challenges and use internal coaches effectively

Follow up needn’t be expensive. Feedback and coaching by telephone was found to be as effective as feedback and coaching in person.

Organizations should measure the effectiveness of the leadership development programs, not just the participants’ satisfaction with it. Data from the study indicated that average satisfaction with the program was very high, but just because executives love a program, doesn’t mean they use it.

The key to changing behavior is continually learning from those around us, then modifying our behavior based on their suggestions. If leaders can be taught and encouraged to reach out to coworkers, to listen and learn, and to focus on continuous development, both the leader and the organization will benefit. This process does not have to take a lot of time or money - there is something far more valuable: contact.

Credits : Leadership is a Contact Sport ( The Follow-up Factor in Management Development by Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan, strategy+business Issue 36

Narayan Kamath

Narayan has over 26 years of functional and general management experience in small and large companies, leading small as well as large diverse teams. He has a rich and diverse experience of working and leading teams in a variety of functions including Business Development, Projects, Technology, Operations, HSE, Supply Chain and Engineering.


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