I'm always struck by the fact that most leadership development programs consist of people who work at the same level of the organizational structure. I understand the rationale for this structure, but I think it has some limitations. After all, to get work done, people need to lead and work on teams consisting of people from multiple levels of the organization. To be effective, people must manage up and down. Nevertheless, formal leadership development programs typically select a cross-section of high performers from one particular level. I understand why, of course. The programs seek to foster a cohort of peers who can learn from and network with one another. Moreover, putting more senior folks in the room can stifle dialogue at times.
Many programs bring senior executives in to speak to the group, conduct question and answer sessions, and the like. This senior executive involvement is very important and should definitely take place. However, I believe a more substantive involvement in the actual programs can be beneficial. Such cross-level involvement would enable development on key issues such as communication, teamwork, project management, giving and receiving feedback, and the like. Mentoring becomes a hands-on activity that becomes embedded in such a program too. Not only can senior folks mentor more junior managers, but reverse mentorship can take place as well. Younger, talented high potentials can educate and inform senior executives on key social, technological, and market trends. In sum, leadership development shouldn't be taking place in isolation. Leaders need to engaging in some development work along with the subordinates and superiors with whom they must cooperate and collaborate to get things done.