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Behind every effective LD program is a great model: Southwest's High Po Leadership Dev Program

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

This article is the second one in a series focused on leadership development for high potential leaders. In particular, I'm sharing details behind one of our longest running programs called MIT (Managers-in-Training) Level II. For context, start with this introductory post.

In this article, we'll take a look at the leadership model we used for the program, as well as why models work well to organize leadership development curricula.

Southwest's MIT Level II Leadership Development Model

To develop the leadership develop model for MIT Level II we began first by determining the skills and behaviors that needed to be addressed within the program. As I mentioned in the first article, after:

  • collecting input from stakeholders + leadership development best practices

  • setting the vision

  • identifying the objectives

the next step was organizing the high potential skills needed into a format that would provide context and connectivity. That became The Authentic Leadership Model built upon Southwest's Leadership Expectations, with particular focus on the skills and behaviors needed to lead at the next level, in this case the director level.

Authentic Leadership Model

The objectives (as identified in the previous post) called out specifically in this model include strategic thinking and industry/business acumen. Other targeted skills where those called out in our Expectations for Leaders and Expectations for Senior Leader (shown below) or key skills needed to lead in a senior role.

Southwest Airlines Expectations 2011

I wanted to start the program with a focus on leading self. In my career watching, identifying and developing leaders, I find the most effective among them are well centered around a core set of personal values and know themselves well. MIT II is a generous six weeks of programming, so we could afford the time needed to focus on honing key "internally-focused" skills, such as clarifying personal values, emotional intelligence and leadership styles. The model then circles around to leading inspirationally, developing people and business acumen topics. It also highlights the classroom, experiential and blending learning topics that we covered over the course of six weeks.

This leadership model is not rocket science. Really, I've not yet found one that is. I'm eager to hear if you've found it! What I have found is that the most effective leadership skills models are those centered on four things:

  1. Instilling the knowledge and desire to genuinely serve, know and develop people

  2. Balancing thinking strategically and a bias for action

  3. Encouraging a consistent curiosity to learn, discover and grow

  4. Building agility to adapt to constant change

So, why bother with a leadership development model?

Well, several reasons. One is that I find our minds work well with anchors and context. A leadership development model provides the context to the bigger picture that a learner's mind can use to anchor a skill or behavior. For example, emotional intelligence is a common competency on leadership development models. Anchoring it under a "develop self" kind of category, lets learners quickly note that during this time of learning they'll be focusing on developing inward skills. While, effective emotional intelligence impacts so many good things across most leadership skill sets, learners don't typically care about that detail. We definitely care. But what we really care about is that they learn something about emotional intelligence and then use the skills once back with their teams. So, we anchor it with a "develop self" context to give it space in relation to all the other skills they'll be learning.

Again, not rocket science. If you're going to invent the leadership dev version of rocket science, might I request that you apply it to the "stickiness" of learning, aka how leaders use or don't use the material we teach them, please?

Another note that I'd like to make is that since this model was created in 2010, we've invested in an update to Southwest's leadership competencies and will be giving the model a refresh. Should you want to learn more about that, sign up below. Plus, I'm due for another MIT program update. The next article will dive into program details, like the weekly structure. You're intrigued… you should sign up and comment about leadership models you've developed or questions you have (about MIT or leadership dev please… world peace or current events are not in my jurisdiction).

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