Leadership development can be defined as an enhancement or expansion of a person’s capability to be effective in a leadership role. Leadership development can also be defined as a process of targeted interventions enhancing the performance and effectiveness of groups, teams, functions and whole organisations. It’s about expanding the collective capacity of an organisation to engage effectively in leadership roles and create commitment and alignment necessary to achieve the organisation’s vision, mission and purpose.
Leadership development is often compared to management development – and it is interesting to note that not all leaders are managers, but all managers need to be leaders. Managers manage things, processes and systems. Leaders lead people. Leadership itself is a process of social influence, aligning and maximising the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal. It is not defined by a level or grade or title.
Why is leadership development important?
Leadership development is important for many reasons. It supports organisational transformation and change, which are so important in today’s environment, by developing the skills, attitudes, talents, capabilities and behaviours necessary to identify strategic pivots and initiatives and to lead others effectively through transformation. It promotes accountability and human-centric decision making, helping leaders create a culture of engagement and purpose. Effective leadership team development helps senior leaders create a positive employee experience, enhanced organisational health and increased employee retention.
Building bench strength through succession planning and inclusivity
Supporting culture and transformational change
Creating a culture of accountability
Increased organisational success
Research has shown that people leave managers, not organisations. Employee turnover is reduced when leaders know how to create a culture where team members feel seen and heard, have clarity on where they are going, and are challenged and supported.
Employees have varying and diverse needs, and organisations need to understand these needs if they are to retain their employees. For example, the percentage of younger people and millennials is increasing, and they have different needs and expectations which is, in turn, having a significant impact on organisations now which will intensify as they move into leadership roles.
A key benefit of leadership development is succession planning, which is identifying and developing a pipeline of future leaders and senior managers that will enable an organisation to future proof itself and create a competitive advantage. This increases talent retention as employees have line of sight into their futures. Inclusive succession planning is critical to securing this competitive advantage.
Leaders that understand and focus on fairness and take steps to increase diversity have a better chance of attracting and retaining top talent as well as maximising innovation, creativity and problem solving. Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated positive business outcomes for organisations with diverse workforces, especially those with diversity within their senior leadership teams and board rooms.
Leadership development can support culture change and organisational transformation
As organisations navigate change, leaders need to use their communication skills to ensure followers understand the change, know what they need to do to support it and develop the leadership skills they will need for the future. Leaders need to be role models and create the climate and conditions to enable successful change. This requires leaders to make better decisions, stay connected to their followers and lead them on the change journey.
Effective leadership development helps leaders create a culture of accountability. When leaders are accountable, they own their decisions and they are willing to answer for the outcomes of their choices, behaviours and actions. Accountable leaders foster a climate of trust – they don’t blame others when things go wrong, instead they put things right and are willing to learn from their mistakes.
John Maxwell’s ‘The Law of the Lid’ states that the limit of an organisation’s leadership capability is the lid of the overall ability of a business to perform. Collective leadership effectiveness and intelligence represent huge untapped potential in most organisations. According to Peter Senge, collective intelligence and performance of most groups is well below the average intelligence and performance of the members. Effective leadership development programmes can liberate this potential and increase organisational effectiveness and success.
How do leadership development programmes work?
Leadership development is multifaceted and comes in many forms, often beginning with self-leadership (self-awareness), expanding to leading others (building relationships, aligning effort and energy and mentoring and coaching others), and finally to organisation-wide leadership (strategic thinking and future-focused change). There are many elements involved, and the focus is on creating specific leadership development goals and designing learning interventions to achieve these, in line with the wider long-term organisation’s goals.
A typical leadership development program will follow the 70-20-10 rule. Individuals learn 70% of their knowledge from challenging experiences or assignments, 20% from developmental relationships and 10% from coursework. Vertical learning is the transformation of how individuals think, feel and make sense of their world. Therefore, when accelerating leadership development, the learning is not so much around skills, but transforming the way a leader thinks, which will impact their behaviour.
What are the trends driving leadership development?
Leaders and their organisations need to do more with less – this requires a new way of thinking, increased creativity and agility, as well as the ability to develop trust, deep and fast. Everything is compressed – time, structures, resources, work processes, work cycles, complexity, experimentation and rapid decision-making. Decisions are being pushed down from senior managers to all levels of the organisation, putting more pressure on less experienced leaders to make decisions that can have a profound effect on the organisation. Leadership development plans need to be sufficiently agile to enable leaders to pivot fast and adapt quickly to ever-changing contexts.
More than ever before, today’s and tomorrow’s leaders need to be resilient – to continue to focus on the goals of the future despite the obstacles of today, to have the emotional stamina to routinely deal with complex situations and ever-present change. Leadership development programmes that enable leaders to develop resilience strategies can have a profound impact on organisational health and performance.
Authentic leadership is key to building trust throughout the organisation. Leaders need to understand themselves and their own sense of meaning and purpose and be able to communicate this in a way that connects them to others. If a leader is playing a role that isn’t a true expression of their authentic self, followers will sooner or later feel they have been tricked. When they are authentically expressing themselves, followers will feel inspired.
More than ever before, employees crave meaning and purpose – they want to know that they are making a worthwhile contribution not only to the organisation, but also to society at large. They want work that is interesting and meaningful. They want connection with their peers – more challenging to accomplish in virtual and hybrid environments. Hybrid leaders need to be able to link employees’ individual responsibilities to the overall organisation’s purpose and vision and to create a culture of collaboration and connection.
Emotional intelligence is critical to leadership now and will continue to be in the future. Leaders need to understand themselves and their personality and preferences and how to manage this to be effective. They need to be hyper aware of themselves and their contexts to be able to get the most from themselves and those whom they lead.
How do you design good leadership development programmes?
Ensuring that the leader and leader’s needs are at the centre of building effective and high-impact leadership development solutions. Link this to your talent development strategy and succession plan. The following five design principles will make sure there are links between leadership development programmes and the talent management strategy for effective execution:
Connect to the challenges of the leaders in your organisation’s context. Understand the challenges and contexts they are facing.
Highlight the unique value to individual leaders. Enable them to create leadership personalised development plans and journeys. Tailor development plans to individual needs.
Learn by doing and experiencing the challenge. Encourage ongoing reflection. Leverage vertical learning to transform how they think and feel.
Engage the heart and make it authentic. Enable them to reconnect with the human side of enterprise. Enable them to connect with their followers and each other to develop authentic relationships.
Ensure that leaders are investing time in proven best practice behaviours and are aligned with the company’s values. Provide strong, visible support from the very top of the organisation.
Leadership lessons from the pandemic: the employee’s perspective
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a profoundly challenging experience for everyone, as countries, organisations, and individuals have had to respond to an uncertain, complex, and fast-moving crisis. While everyone has been trying to sail through the storm of the pandemic, people have been on different boats, with varied impact and experiences on their work and personal circumstances.
It required leaders and managers to learn on the fly, navigate through stormy waters,
and adjust course through the ebbs and flows of the crisis. In many ways, amongst all
the pain, sadness, and anxiety that the pandemic has brought, Covid-19 has provided
a very powerful experiential leadership development opportunity.