How much do you invest in leadership development?

There is no doubt that we live in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.

Leaders work in increasingly flatter and leaner organisations. They are more diverse, culturally, and generationally. Their work is more likely to be virtual, than working alongside, and navigating the virtual world brings different demands.

Leaders also increasingly work in resource-starved environments where demands seem much more significant. That requires better strategic thinking, creativity and innovation, and greater agility and responsiveness. In short, today’s leaders need to be even more flexible and adaptive.

My concern

That raises a concern I increasingly encounter in my coaching business. That is, leaders unsure whether they have the necessary talent and skills to respond effectively to emerging challenges. 

I believe there are four main reasons for that uncertainty:

  1. Businesses at large still lack a practical definition of the term ‘leader’, and how it ought to be applied organisationally;
  2. Companies, mainly, adopt a ‘command and control’ culture, rather than a focus on capabilities; and,
  3. Businesses persist with a ‘sheep dip’ mentality, where staff are cycled through a ‘training programme’ and then expected to transform organisations overnight.
  4. Businesses lack the necessary culture to enable staff with new skills, attitudes or approaches to flourish. What compounds the problem is that often those same staff will be returning to organisations where permission and trust are not in place for them to practice what they learned, let alone transform their team or organisation.

My suggested solution

I believe, as a consequence, that we need more significant and different investment in leadership development, especially where we need transformational change.

If leadership begins with the individual, then let’s start there. How to do this involves four key steps:

  1. We need to expand our definition of the term ‘leader’. They are not the privileged few at the apex of an organisation. They exist at every level, even though their job role or title may not indicate this. We need to acknowledge that and invest in their skills and talents – through a combination of blended and experiential learning and coaching and mentoring.
  2. We need to redefine which leadership capabilities matter most. Increasingly, leaders exist in diverse networks. They need to get things done without much ‘command and control’. They need to trust other staff, leaders themselves, to do the right thing without high levels of oversight and supervision.
  3. We need to re-think leadership development methods. That, particularly so, because of time demands, in highly-pressured working environments. Many organisations are moving to virtual solutions to reduce both cost and pressure of time. ‘Sheep-dip’ is no longer a viable solution.
  4. Staff need trust and space to practice, make mistakes, and receive coaching on improving their talents and skills. Learning from mistakes is key to this approach, and line managers need to exhibit patience, perseverance, and encouragement.

My example

More so, individuals need to recognise for themselves what development is required and pursue this vigorously. As an example, a Millenial I coach monthly has identified two clear business goals for the year. His coaching is focused primarily on those two goals. He supplements this with a mixture of reading, course participation, and webinar learning. He is fully committed to his leadership journey. He is probably one of the few, maybe the only one in his organisation that is. I believe that he represents the way ahead for those interested in leadership development.

The future

To address the current global economic situation, we all need to develop a leadership mindset focused on organisation transformation. We need to develop core capabilities that enable us to respond to relentless change. Among those core capabilities, I would emphasise an ability to collaborate and influence. I’d complement those with negotiation, communication, and managing change.

In summary, leadership development for the future must enhance:

  • A mindset that focuses on organisation transformation, not just improving core skills;
  • Core capabilities that move you, your team and your organisation way beyond command and control; and,
  • Staff leading at all levels of your organisation, not just the usual suspects.

What do you think?

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