Why Leaders don’t Involve Stakeholders in Their Development

Involving stakeholders in a leader’s development journey is proven to accelerate change and also shape perceptions. However, very few leaders are actually comfortable engaging their stakeholders in the journey.

Recently, I was part of a panel of coaches working with leaders participating in a high-potential development program. As part of the engagement, I was required to interview and gather inputs from each leader’s key stakeholders – both at the beginning, and end of the engagement.

While the organization had set explicit requirements for the involvement of stakeholders, very few of the participants had actually done this. It was no surprise therefore, when asked whether they had observed any improvements in the leader’s targeted behaviors, most stakeholders claimed they had not seen any significant change in the leader.

This was contrary to the self-assessment of the leader, the assessment of his/her manager, and even my own observation as the leader’s coach. This was also the experience of several other coaches who were part of this engagement.

The Importance of Involving Stakeholders in a Leader’s Development Journey

I’ve previously written about the importance of engaging stakeholders in a leader’s development journey. Essentially, there are a number of reasons why it is a good idea to involve a leader’s key stakeholders in their development, including:

  • The interdependent nature of work, implies that direct reports, peers and supervisors, directly experience the impact of the leader’s behavior, and are therefore naturally interested in any changes in the same
  • Stakeholders, as close observers of the leader, are often the people who observe gaps in a leader’s behavior and offer feedback. It is reasonable to expect that they will also have suggestions on how the leader could improve
  • Stakeholders can serve as an accountability network, holding the leader to his/her commitment, much better than an external coach ever could
  • Changing Stakeholder’s perception of a leader requires consistent and repeated demonstrations of a new behaviour. It is therefore important to keep stakeholders informed and check frequently that they notice the changes

Why do Leaders Hesitate Involving their Stakeholders?

While there may be several reasons why leaders hesitate engaging stakeholders in their leadership development journey, in my experience, the following factors appear significant

  • Leaders are afraid that working on an area of growth can be interpreted as a weakness, and can be exploited by competitive peers or team members
  • Leaders feel their influence and authority will be undermined if they are seen to lack required competencies
  • Leaders do not see their peers or team members as qualified to provide any useful inputs for their development
  • Leaders are uncomfortable being vulnerable

Whatever the reason, this reluctance and avoidance, on part of the leader is resulting in their not taking advantage of the benefits of engaging stakeholders in their improvement journey, to accelerate their development, as well as to shape perceptions

What can the organization do?

Most of the reasons behind leader’s reluctance to engage stakeholders in their development journey stems from within themselves. This suggests that the key to addressing this obstacle is to encourage leaders to do their inner work.

While many organizations have adopted coaching as part of their leadership development toolkit, the focus is often on developing specific skills and competencies. The missing element, which is potentially holding back the impact of coaching from being truly transformational, is self-inquiry or inner work.

Besides encouraging and facilitating transformational inner work by leaders, organizations can also promote stakeholder engagement by

  • Establishing a coaching culture – where identifying areas for improvement and working on them is looked upon postively
  • Extending coaching more widely – so that a leader’s stakeholders are also simultaneously on their own journey of development
  • Instituting Peer Learning Groups, so that leaders find a level of support and companionship that makes their personal journey less daunting.

Questions for Reflection

What are some other ways of helping leaders overcome their reluctance to engage stakeholders in their development journey?

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Narayan Kamath

I'm a Leadership Coach and Mentor. I help successful leaders take their leadership to the next level. My mission is to make positive and significant impact in the lives of at least 100,000 people by 2020 - by helping them unleash their true potential to achieve greater success and fulfilment - at work, and in life.

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