Home / HR Blog / New Approaches to Leadership Development

New Approaches to Leadership Development

The commercial landscape is evolving. New, collaborative and responsive technologies have emerged and are shaping the way many businesses operate, the interactions they have with customers and clients, and how their employees work. They have also disrupted many established business processes and attitudes. Our approach to attracting, retaining and nurturing talent is also changing, driven by new candidate behaviours and different expectations of the employment experience. The leaders that we develop for tomorrow will almost certainly face complexities and challenges that are as yet unidentified, and which could well be shaped by technologies and digital tools that have yet to be invented.

Investment in Leadership Development is increasingly a priority for most businesses, with pre-conference research for last month’s European HR Directors Summit showing it as delegates’ number one concern. I looked at changes in the way we define leadership competencies and behaviours in a previous blog, but what are some of the ways in which we are going about developing and embedding these within the our future leaders? If we are to create future change agents, who can comfortably lead organisational change and be effective problem solvers, then today’s Leadership Development programmes and models may not be fit for purpose.

For a start leadership needs to stop being seen as something elitist, reserved for a small group of pre-identified individuals or attached to specific roles, and become more collective, drawing from a wider pool of employees and experiences, and spread through networks. Some companies already identify leaders by influence and performance rather than job title. This will be further helped as more businesses begin to adopt flatter, less hierarchical structures. In an open and interconnected commercial world, with businesses, trading markets and labour becoming ever more diverse and global, there is a need for a more inclusive leadership style displaying an understanding of cultural diversity and sensitivities, and development programmes should reflect that.

Individuals are not just taking ownership of their personal development but their Leadership Development too. In many organisations they are now challenged to reflect on the areas where they feel they need strengthening and where their skills are weaker, and to come up with activities that can help further self-development. For many this includes a desire to gain broader life and commercial skills, and move outside their comfort zone, which means undertaking a mix of challenging assignments within their organisations (often cross functional or project based) and also from taking on external opportunities and projects.

Some global organisations set business challenges to early stage participants in their leadership programmes that are solved collaboratively, across functions and sometimes borders, through technology such as webinars, virtual meetings and webcasts, with conclusions presented to the executive level. Specialist communication training helps with this and also prepares participants for articulating and presenting messages in front of a Board.

One of the key leadership competencies I mentioned in my earlier post is the need to seek different and broader perspectives. To enable this we need to build a more diverse and varied leadership pool, so should be nurturing aspirational employees whatever their background, ensuring that paths to leadership are open to all employees. Leadership Development programmes are becoming open to all who are interested and not just a few pre-selected high potentials. Successful broadening of the future leadership pipeline depends on four things:

  • Clearly defined leadership culture
  • Detailed breakdown of required competencies and capabilities for leaders
  • Support and access to all the relevant tools, resources and coaching that individuals need
  • Information on Leadership Development programmes being freely accessible to everyone in the organisation

To maximise employee involvement there should be a seamless learning experience with a personalised approach. If future leaders are to be in the ‘driving seat’ for their development then the opportunity to learn how, where and when they want needs to be facilitated through a mixture of mentoring and coaching, social learning, video and collaboration. Mainstream L&D is embracing a wider range of learning technologies and this shouldn’t stop at Leadership. Denying access to varied learning, especially if information is difficult to access and share, could mean losing out on retaining key talent who may find it easier to develop elsewhere.

Underpinning new approaches to Leadership Development is a recognition that in a modern 24/7/365 always connected/always online business culture, with the individual taking more personal responsibility and often feeling the pressure to always be present, care has to be taken to avoid ‘burn out’. There is now more promotion of wellbeing and training around mindfulness and resilience.

However when it comes to finding a consistent way to measure the success, or value, from Leadership Development programmes many organisations seem to struggle. This is surprising given that the investment in these programmes is such a major concern. The recent Top Employers Institute Report found that whilst top performing organisations use a full range of measurements to gauge the success of programmes, most other companies rely more on subjective evaluations. In fact, ROI and Business Performance are the least used measures globally.

Less than half of CEOs are confident that their investment in leadership development will produce results. Maybe the key to getting real value for future leaders is to design programmes that reflect the changing problems and challenges that they will face whilst allowing them to develop the skills and competencies they will need. And to find an effective way to measure success.


(Image courtesy of Top Employers Institute)


One response to “New Approaches to Leadership Development”

  1. Jeff Wren says:

    ROI is a useful measure in the right circumstances but those circumstances are rare. Too often I see a series of guesses and suppositions masquerading as measurements and accepted simply because it has been calculated. In an increasingly complex and volatile world, isolating the impact of a single factor (Leadership Development ) is not simple. I’m certainly not saying don’t do it but we need to be honest about how we have done it and the inherent limitations in our calculations and claims.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *