Leadership development: nurturing better leaders
Post-pandemic, organisations are more aware than ever of the need for strong, capable leaders with outstanding interpersonal skills. Leadership development programmes can help provide them.
What is leadership development?
Leadership development usually involves a company nurturing and progressing its senior leaders through a structured programme. These programmes allow people to improve their leadership skills and can be helpful for leaders and managers at all levels. They’re also crucial for nurturing the leaders of tomorrow.
programmes often include a mix of traditional training sessions and initiatives like mentoring and coaching. A big part of the training focuses on personal development, but there are also elements of organisational development and learning skills like critical thinking and collective leadership.
Organisations recognise the importance of leadership development – most of them invest in it at one time or another. Pre-pandemic, 94% of companies said they were planning to keep or increase their leadership development budget.1 And the need for a strong presence at the helm post-pandemic is likely to push leadership development even further up the agenda.
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But, despite the ongoing investment, some of the programmes on offer aren’t yielding the expected results. Harvard Business Review found that ‘more than 50% of senior leaders believe that their talent development efforts don’t adequately build critical skills and organisational capabilities.’
So how can an organisation ensure ROI on their leadership team development efforts? Experts think it comes down to a combination of:
Highly contextualised and tailored training
Making time for consolidating learnings
Robust effect measurement
Why is leadership development important?
Successful leadership development programmes can benefit individuals, teams and companies. They can also map directly back to financial performance. But the effect that team leadership development can have on morale, commitment and purpose is even more critical.
Sourcing talent from within the organisation
The most successful businesses have a leadership pipeline or leadership bench. In other words, they know how to source talent from within rather than always hiring externally (with all the expense and hassle that brings). To help keep the personnel pipeline healthy, training leaders to identify and nurture internal talent is a significant leadership development goal.
The churn rates aren’t pretty. Up to 70% of senior leaders placed into new roles fail. This is costly, not just financially, but also because of the burden it can put on staff morale and brand reputation.
Leadership development can help reduce this leadership churn – especially if the programme includes mentoring. DDI found a 20% lower leadership turnover when a workplace has a mentoring culture.2 And, of course, having a great leader in place helps organisations hold on to talent at all levels.
Improving financial performance
Leaders that are in tune with people, the broader company and its sector are more likely to deliver financially. So successful operations leadership development programmes can have boost financial performance. But it’s not just about developing people in the senior leadership team.
The DDI research found that when companies expand their leadership development programmes to lower ranking levels, they’re four times more likely to outperform financially.
Helping steer organisations through times of change
Being able to navigate through times of crisis is in the spotlight following the pandemic. Leadership development programmes that focus on collective leadership can help hone this skill.
When you can train leaders in collective leadership, they can work and problem-solve collaboratively. That leads to better decision-making and a greater ability to anticipate and respond to change proactively, not reactively.
Improving leadership diversity
Senior women are more likely to consider leaving their role for another opportunity than senior men - a number that’s increased during the pandemic, particularly among mothers. So [SC2] developing and nurturing women leaders - and keeping them engaged - should be a business priority.
Another area where leadership development can help diversity, equity and inclusion, is to help managers learn to look beyond ‘the norm’ when hiring externally and promoting internally. Great leaders tend to sidestep the common trap of only recruiting in their image.
Leaders need to think of their career objectives the same way they do any other business goal. That means creating a clear, robust development plan, taking responsibility for it, and being accountable for their own leadership development goals. This strategy can increase loyalty and reduce churn too.
Improving employee engagement
Employee engagement and leadership are significantly linked. Essentially, if you have the right managers in place, your employees will feel inspired and engaged. Taking regular pulse surveys can help identify dips in engagement and give leaders the chance to respond quickly and effectively.
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What is a leadership development plan?
Until recently, corporate leadership development plans were generally a one-size-fits-all model. But the disappointing ROI for these programmes shows that you should tailor development plans to individuals. The move towards virtual and hybrid learning programmes as a result of the pandemic and wider globalisation can make this easier (and make training universally accessible).
It’s also important to tailor your plan to your demographic. Millennial and Gen Z managers, for example, are more comfortable with self-directed learning than previous generations. They’re also keen to try newer methods of learning and development like:
What is a leadership development programme?
So, what does a good leadership development programme look like and what skills areas should you include? Here are three of them.
Communication skills are key when it comes to developing inspiring leaders. This has always been the case, but now soft skills such as empathy, emotional intelligence and building trust are critical in leadership development.
Giving feedback is another area that team leaders need to master, particularly for Millennial and Gen Z employees who thrive on real-time feedback and strategic recognition. For example, some people like a quick shout-out on social media when they’ve achieved a goal. A great leader knows how to tailor their feedback for best results.
Experts see coaching as a key component of leadership development. Not only does it empower leaders and improve their skill set, it can also increase accountability to the company and decrease leader turnover. Despite its benefits, DDI found that only 11% of companies extensively use peer coaching as a learning method. This presents a clear opportunity for businesses.
Mentoring is another key item in the leadership development toolkit. And that goes for senior managers and junior leaders who may be at higher risk of leaving. Mentoring can work formally – where mentors and mentees sign a contract, and informally.
But either way, the key is to match people purposefully rather than at random. For senior leaders, matching them with an external mentor has been shown to lead to a lower turnover than with an internal mentor.
Start putting your leadership development strategy in place
Five tips for successful leadership development
So what should you look for in a leadership development programme and how do you set leadership development goals? Get started with these five tips:
Think outside the box
Dare to be different when it comes to the format of the leadership team training. Particularly important if you’re working with Millennial and Gen Z leaders or leaders of the future.
Allocate adequate time and budget for reflection
Stats show that people forget up to 70% of training content after just one day.3 So make sure you factor in time to allow for the consolidation and embedding of new skills.
To make learning stick, make it radically relevant
You should tailor it to the specific scenarios and challenges your leaders may face in the business, as well as in your industry, right now
Don’t go for one size fits all
Hyper-bespoke leadership development plans can help counteract the risk of leaders leaving the organisation post-training.4
Measure the effect
Plan well in advance how you will measure success and don’t just tag measurement on at the end. This will help make sure you stay aligned to business goals and have something to prove the ROI.
And finally, remember that a great organisation nurtures all its staff, not just its senior leaders.
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