5 ways to incorporate CSR into leadership development

Tear-off calendars on a wall at the International Exhibition of Architecture and Design ARCH MOSCOW
ShutterstockPavel L Photo and Video
Time spent away from the office can hone new skills. Tear-off calendars on a wall at the International Exhibition of Architecture and Design ARCH MOSCOW, in 2012.

If your company is looking for an innovative way to develop global leadership skills, emotional intelligence and resilience, consider developing leaders from the inside out through corporate social responsibility (CSR)  specifically, through social sabbaticals.

As described in a panel discussion I moderated at this year’s Association for Talent Development conference, social sabbaticals are short-term, cross-border, volunteer programs designed to develop global leadership skills.

Program participants are typically high potential, emerging or executive leaders. They work in small teams, on four-week project assignments, in countries where they don’t normally live or work.

Social sabbaticals are part of a broader landscape of international corporate volunteer programs known as global pro bono, which range from virtual programs to three- to six-month fellowships. PYXERA Global estimates that 26 companies have sent over 8,000 employees on projects since 2008.

SAP, IBM, PepsiCo, John Deere, Dow, Merck and Medtronic have established programs, with the oldest programs dating back 10 years. “Change Your Leaders From The Inside Out: SAP’s Social Sabbatical” described a global partnership among SAP, PYXERA Global and the Ken Blanchard Companies.

Social sabbaticals create shared value for organizations, cross-sector partners and individual leaders. Organizations develop leaders with proven skills, high levels of engagement and firsthand knowledge of emerging markets, at a cost comparable to other leadership development programs, according to Rainer Stern, global vice president of sales acceleration and leadership programs at SAP.

Partner organizations, which may include non-governmental organizations, local businesses, non-profits and entrepreneurs, gain access to valuable talent and ideas. 

Leaders improve their emotional intelligence and develop more flexible leadership styles. They become more resilient and learn to collaborate quickly, effectively and cross-culturally. 

Here are five ways to integrate CSR into your leadership development programs:

1. Align your leadership development and CSR objectives

SAP wanted to respond directly to global trends regarding youth and the impending skills gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) knowledge, so its program emphasizes education and workforce development. What local and global trends is your organization most concerned about? How can you align your leadership development programs to address these?

2. Link development to mission and vision

Studies continue to show that today’s workers want more than just a paycheck; they want their work to contribute to something larger than themselves. Development can connect leaders directly with your organization’s mission and vision. Where might you have opportunities to create and communicate these connections?

3. Take time to reflect

It’s hard to step back from an experience “in the moment,” so reflection is important. Coaching helps participants reflect and integrate learning that otherwise might go unrecognized, according to Madeline Homan-Blanchard, co-founder of Blanchard Online Learning & Coaching Services. Thinking about your leadership development efforts, how might you integrate coaching to increase opportunities for learning?

4. Start simple, but start something

Rainer Stern offered this advice to organizations thinking about social sabbaticals. Begin with and learn from pilot programs. Which markets are most critical to your business? Which existing partners could you work with more closely?

5. Adapt concepts to meet your needs

Small and mid-size companies can adapt the key concepts behind global pro bono, according to Laura Asiala, VP of Public Affairs with PYXERA Global. Organizations such as Volunteer Match, Taproot Foundation and Catchafire provide skills-based volunteer matching. What non-profits does your organization already support? 

Where might you have existing opportunities to integrate CSR into your leadership development efforts to develop your high potential, emerging or executive leaders? 

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