With thousands of books on Amazon and countless TedX talks, leadership development can be difficult to navigate. When thinking about the needs of your own organisation, there is an overwhelming range of approaches available. Today we’re going to identify some actionable principles you can use to start to build better leadership in your organisation.
The DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2021 suggests that only 28% of HR personnel believe their company’s leadership is high-quality yet leaders themselves often see things differently, with almost half rating their company’s leadership highly. When it comes to issues of leadership, the ‘problem statement’ isn’t always self-evident. Yet despite this, C-suites all agree that having the right calibre of leadership is essential to long-term success.
When budgets are squeezed, many businesses put leadership development into their ‘non-essentials’ category. We’ve seen this time and time again, usually with poor or immeasurable ROI held up as the justification. Yet in our experience, effective leadership development should be seen not as a nice-to-have but a critical investment, providing executives with the tools they need to maximise potential in times of challenge.
With this in mind, here’s some food for thought on creating development experiences that elevate your leaders – and as a result, your business.
Having experienced numerous training initiatives, we’ve seen that many are rooted in the principles of team effectiveness. Of course, this approach has value. Fostering a positive team dynamic is crucial, irrespective of employees’ seniority level. Nevertheless, focusing too heavily on the collective – particularly at the start – can create distance between individuals and their impact. Development experiences focused solely on the team level – and requiring all members to align and move at the same speed – can miss an opportunity for deeper, more personal, growth. After all, a team is the sum of diverse individuals with highly personalised needs.
That’s not to say that you should focus exclusively on solo learning and development. Encouraging your leaders to acknowledge their vulnerabilities in a group environment can create room for transparency, self-awareness, and continuous improvement.
In our view, the most successful development initiatives strike a balance between self- and team-focused development. With this approach, you can enhance your leaders’ understanding of their role in the business, instil a deep-rooted sense of accountability and foster team cohesion through collective learning and discussion.
Too many ‘actions’, too little action. It’s a flaw we see with a lot of leadership development experiences, particularly ‘off the shelf’ programmes that try to be everything for everyone. No doubt you’ve been there: a framework or model is shared, the team discusses it for a while, and then before you know it you’re creating a plethora of initiatives and ideas designed to improve ways of working.
The intention behind these is a noble one; what’s the point of investing in leadership development if it doesn’t drive action? But the challenge comes when a large number of ideas emerge, often with low commitment, on top of an already overwhelming workload.
Instead of generating lots of new ‘initiatives’ off the back of leadership development, consider how you can drive meaningful change through the work rather than over and above it. For instance, instead of saddling leaders with new projects to steward, empower them to apply tools and concepts in their every day. This could be as simple as arming them with key questions that can unlock new thinking in the face of challenges:
- How do I take responsibility in this situation?
- What role have I played in getting us here?
- What choices do I have moving forward?
Concepts that can be applied the moment your team return to their desks can have greater power than lots of more ‘tangible’ but often less truly ‘actionable’ change initiatives.
Consider the wider development journey
Whilst investment in development programmes can move your leadership team forward, it will only ever be part of the solution. To create lasting change, a self-regulating culture of development is required. Bringing in outside perspective and expertise can act as a catalyst, but what efforts can you make to ensure that change continues?
Often, it’s not the content of leadership programmes that limits their impact, it’s the wider environment around them. In these situations, the role of the HR team is merely to identify a partner facilitator, and the role of leaders themselves is simply to turn up on the day. Whilst this delivers the basics, there is a missed opportunity to embed the learning more deeply.
To get a greater ROI out of leadership development, it’s vital to think about how the learning can be maintained outside the room. If full-time leaders were to spend a day in executive development sessions every quarter, it would still only represent around 2% of their time in work overall. The other 98% needs to count.
One approach that can support the development journey is creating deliberate practices whereby leaders consciously apply concepts and reflect on how they’ve been useful. This could be as simple as a quarterly check-in at a team meeting to share experiences. Another route can be encouraging leaders to explore the same concepts with their own teams, to drive learning further down the organisation and encourage accountability and role-modelling.
Ensuring leadership concepts are embedded is a collective endeavour, but small interventions can go a long way.
Teaming up with businesses to facilitate development-rich cultures just so happens to be our forte. Through bespoke and people-focused services, we’re here to help your organisation invest in leadership development that meets your unique needs.