By Leslie Traub, Chief Consulting Officer, and Kimberly Rattley, Senior Consultant

Who will manage and lead your organization in the next 10 years?

Too many organizations are not thinking about their succession beyond the CEO. And many have eliminated their management and leadership development curricula for cost savings.

This has had an especially deleterious effect on women and people of color because those who have gotten ahead without this targeted development have had the benefit of informal mentors and allies not shared by everyone. We at Cook Ross know from our many years of work in this area that informal structures and systems benefit the status quo. Knowing that this does not serve our futures, how do we change this? By investing in leadership development for an intentionally multicultural group.

We have developed a 21st Century Leadership Program that works with a multicultural cohort within an organization to develop leadership through both experiential classroom learning and practical action learning. The multicultural cohort benefits from a deep dive into core leadership topics such as authentic leadership, innovation, building winning strategies, working through teams, honing management skills, working across cultures, mitigating bias in talent management and decision making and learning to be an inclusive leader. In addition, the cohort serves as a multicultural social laboratory, where participants can engage important issues. In this laboratory participants intentionally learn to work together, disable stereotypes and biases, and produce meaningful contribution to their organizations through action learning projects.

These 6-9 month programs with monthly in-person gatherings, mentoring and coaching, deliver sophisticated, open, passionate leaders at mid-level in the organization. In our experience, these participants are quickly promoted, asked to participate in high visibility organizational projects, and emerge as strong role models to others.

Participants report that the 21st Century Leadership Programs have been life-changing events for them. The level of inquiry into patterned thinking, how we’ve become the leaders we are, how to create possibility for ourselves, teams and organizations profoundly impacts how they see themselves and what’s possible for them.

Jamila Cannon, a current participant in the 11th cohort at Inova Health System, said, “This course has softened me as a leader, and has helped me mend relationships both in the workplace and at home. . . . Without this class, I would have never looked at where I came from, and how that impacts me as a leader.”

Each cohort takes on substantial action learning projects. This component of the program provides the opportunity for participants to address oftentimes embedded historical departmental biases and turn them into strategic partnerships. This occurs as participants see each other’s projects emerge and gain a better and broader understanding of the full picture of the organization. With this heightened organizational awareness, participants are better equipped to support wider organizational concerns in a more equitable and effective way. In one current program, participants have shifted how they are doing a campus-wide event to make it more inclusive. Others have contributed to policy and program changes to make their organizations more inclusive and equitable.

Although it’s still trending to provide efficacy leadership development for women or different groups of people of color, delivering similar content to a multicultural group sensitizes everyone to exclusionary triggers and cues from individuals and organizations to ways to intervene on behalf of all employees. It’s equally important that those in the dominant group learn about the institutional challenges of the non-dominant group to advocate on their behalf. If the cohorts are truly multicultural, the laboratory experience of having to examine their motives and behaviors compel them to become deeply conscious and authentic leaders, exactly the kind of people that should inhabit an organization’s succession plan.