Six Key Takeaways From Our Award-Winning Leadership Development Initiatives


Three years ago, Hazell & Collins Associates (HCA) began a partnership with LifeLabs executives that led to the design of a bespoke and award-winning Integrated Leadership Assessment & Development Initiative.

In March, LifeLabs was recognized for achieving excellence through the implementation of strategic and sustainable coaching programs. LifeLabs is the most recent recipient of the prestigious PRISM Award, presented by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) Toronto Chapter to honour organizations that have achieved excellence in the implementation of coaching programs for culture change, leadership development, productivity and performance improvement. As their nominating executive coach, I am exceptionally proud of the commitment LifeLabs has made to investing in their people, their potential and their leadership bench strength; and I’ve been asked to share some of my deeper insights about what makes for a high-impact and sustainable leadership transformation. 


There were so many lessons learned and meaningful takeaways; for now, here are my six key takeaways that speak to design of a strategic and sustainable initiative. Separately, I hope to write about what makes an engaging program that creates the positive and meaningful impact for people, which HCA has become recognized for producing.   


Have a read. I welcome your thoughts and experience. Where have you realized your own success through culture and leadership transformation initiative?  


1. There isn’t necessarily an “exact right time” to start a transformational initiative.

Too often, I see organizations delay the decision to invest in leadership coaching and development programs because they are afraid it may “not be the right time”, or “we are just going through so much change”, or “our people already have so much on their plate”. It’s understandable that organizations are worried about this; leadership development through high-impact coaching or development programs can be a big investment of time and money. But, often the wrong time is exactly the right time. The wait and see approach does nothing to move your organization forward. Investing in your leaders is something that benefits everyone, and while it’s true the organization and its’ people might be moving through change, a context sensitive and bespoke approach will give people the strength and resilience to thrive through this change.


When you develop your leaders, you set your organization up for the best possible chance at success. You create an environment where people are engaged, motivated, and able to perform at their best.


2. Sustainable transformation requires a strategic and bespoke approach.

Understanding and addressing context is critical to the success of a culture and leadership development initiative. Too many leadership development programs and training initiatives rest on the assumption that one size fits all and that the same group of skills or style of leadership is appropriate regardless of strategy, organizational culture, or CEO mandate.


An essential component of our culture and leadership strategy work is ensuring coaching initiatives align with organizational purpose, mission, vision, core values, or behaviours; can be mapped clearly to current organizational goals/objectives; are supported by dedicated allocation of human and/or financial resources; and are adaptable enough to evolve to serve fast-emerging employee/organizational needs.


“The level of direct involvement that HCA took in understanding the people and the business they supported is unprecedented to me. This level of engagement is, in my opinion, the key contributing factor to my team’s success and to HCA’s effectiveness in delivering the services they so successfully delivered to me and my team at LifeLabs.” ~Pierre Bou-Mansour, Chief Operating Officer, LifeLabs


3. A strategic and sustainable leadership initiative requires executive (and CEO) sponsorship.

Here’s some truth: Culture starts at the top. The mindsets and behaviours demonstrated each day by the CEO and executive team strongly influence the company culture. They serve as an example for everyone else in the organization. Even the smallest lack of awareness or indifference from the executive can manifest into lack of engagement that may negatively impact results.


Whether you realize it or not, employees model their behaviours after their leader(s). This is why one of the single most important components of a successful, strong and transformative leadership initiative is awareness and commitment from the executive and leadership teams. Actively and adequately involving sponsors (and other key stakeholders) throughout the process invites ‘thought leadership’. The goal is to involve sponsors in each and every stage so that they are empowered to guide its success and so participation is empowered, not imposed.


4. The impact of a leadership initiative increases when it’s tied to measurable and meaningful business results.

A successful leadership initiative should produce observable and measurable outcomes that underscore the value, influence or effectiveness of the leadership initiative. Designing a leadership initiative with ROI in mind integrates dynamic evaluation tools to ensure the organization and the people realize the fiscal as well as the qualitative impact of their investment.


To get the most out of your investment of time, money and people resources, it is critically important the culture work ties to some performance imperatives – some measurable and meaningful business results. Culture and leadership development activities are not just about having people feel better about coming to work or lifting engagement scores (though a successful program will achieve these outcomes). When properly designed, this work is about tying the leadership to the business with impact grounded in improvement in business results.


5. An integrated approach will address leadership from the outside in, and the inside out.

People, processes, legacies and systems all influence how we think and behave. This is the environmental context that influences our culture and how people lead. Our culture and leadership are also very much influenced by each individual’s internal context – our diverse backgrounds, unique experiences and personal values.


There is a tendency to focus on the external context, both at the individual and especially at the collective levels, and a resistance to incorporating internal strategies. Most organizations get others to change by focusing on physical technology, structural and intellectual change.


In our experience, an integrated leadership development initiative must address both the outside in, and the inside out. Long-term, you must address the mindsets that lead to the behaviors that create the systems:

  • Mindsets: Underlying, often unstated assumptions.
  • Behaviors: Leadership behaviors and patterns.
  • Systems: The structures that reinforce how we think and behave.


6. An integrated approach, with both individual and cohort leadership development activities, has a flywheel effect.

Finally, leadership development initiatives are focused not just on “me” the leader, but on “we” the collective. Ideally, targeted content addresses the skills, knowledge and competencies within each leader and applies the skills to positively impact what is happening between the leaders.


Organizations that create an environment that increases the collective capacity for leadership, and encourages effective and purposeful intersystem relationships, are proving to be extremely successful in achieving their desired outcomes – positive cultures and business results. That’s why team and cohort-based learning and development, that addresses both individual and collective leadership development, is such a valuable investment for organizations who are looking to build a well-defined team culture.


A team-approach or cohort-based leadership development engagement is one that is designed to purposefully and creatively build a culture of high accountability. Peers are encouraged to learn together, support each other, succeed together, collaborate, and coach each other. The design of a cohort program for leadership development must intentionally create a “holding environment” for individual and collective learning and growth.

I hope you found this read interesting and insightful. Send us your thoughts and feedback! We’d love to hear from you and look forward to partnering with you in transforming and activating your culture, your leadership and your organization.


While having our work with Lifelabs recognized by the PRISM Award is a true honor, we are most thrilled by the results that it represents in their organizational journey. Please let me know if you want to know more about how these insights and our approach might be tailored to meet your needs in your organization.


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