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Growing Pains of Leadership Development

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

There are clear indicators that leadership development should go beyond workshops, training and tools designed to help leaders achieve their personal best. Korn Ferry identified learning agility as a reliable indicator of potential for leadership roles. This may be expressed differently from person to person (“profiles”) and those profiles need to be nurtured accordingly.

It is also becoming increasingly evident that a leader’s soft skills play a key role in deciding the extent of respect, influence and recognition they can gain. An other-oriented leader, who thinks, acts and cares in accordance with others’ interests in a relatable style, is best positioned to create a high-performance organization of engaged, empowered people.

If employees win, the leader wins and vice-versa

Leaders who don’t have the support of their people are bound to fail. Successful leaders have their employees’ success and well-being in mind, which they dispense through mentoring and one-on-one meetings. Good listening skills, empathy and genuinely wanting the best for others, build trust and help leaders nurture a support system that can extend to just about everyone they lead. Within this support system are managers, with whom leaders must ally to transform from the ground up, and that starts with engagement, as discussed below.

Facilitate managerial and employee success to amplify engagement

Managers have a strong impact on team performance. In fact, Gallup finds that managers are responsible for a whopping 70% of variance in the performance of the people they lead. In activating managerial effectiveness to drive up employee engagement, leaders must support managers to become coaches.

A coach is someone who wants to help you improve and grow. It is the manager’s role to help their team members maximize their potential, and this is possible only through effective engagement.

In many companies, engagement is limited to meetings to discuss critical projects and annual performance reviews. It creates an invisible barrier between managers and their people. True engagement involves the manager having frequent coaching conversations around every individual team member’s growth and potential.

  • As a starting point, managers need to have a clear understanding of people’s talents, needs and aspirations. This is necessary to create a career roadmap for the employee to progress in the organization.

  • Employees should be able to connect to their managers quickly, such as through an open-door policy, or the use of remote work tools.

  • Managers need to check-in with their team regularly, provide them with professional development tools, and review their progress periodically.

As leaders have the power and authority to mobilise this change, they must redefine managers’ roles and expectations, offer them the resources and tools to fulfil those expectations, and set up an assessment system that measures performance and ensures accountability.

Get ready, it’s going to be a bumpy ride

Leadership development is a transformation journey. It needs to be set in the context of the day-to-day challenges a leader will experience. There is no textbook, no pre-empting, no magic pill. Leaders must tackle events as they arise, move with the ebb and flow of the external environment, learning in real-time and maturing with time.

Necessary steps on the leadership development journey

Successful leadership rests on how well leaders are able to navigate new real-world challenges, supercharge and mentor their managers to boost engagement and cultivate empathy. With experience and through deliberate actions, followed by reflection and continuous improvement, leaders can increase their influence while driving organisation-wide change. The leadership development journey, therefore, is iterative rather than linear, tracing the following steps:

  • Evaluate: Assess current engagement levels. Set benchmarks after determining where you need to be from where you are. Research from Gallup finds the average engagement rate over 2000-2018 to be 30%

  • Buy-in: Collective responsibility is a factor of shared goals and individual empowerment. Encourage employees to share their points of view so they can find common ground, and feel motivated to reach a consensus and take responsibility as a group.

  • Unite: Keep up the momentum to build common ground, encouraging everyone to develop meaningful and authentic connections. Google’s research reveals that authentic connections are necessary to creating psychological safety in teams.

  • Align: Create a shared vision from the ground-up. Give employees something they can be excited about and work towards. Visualizing a future built on shared goals is a powerful trigger for people to unleash their potential.

  • Engage: Provide a platform for everyone to collaborate at a higher level. The more the collaboration among empowered people who feel psychologically safe, the greater are the chances of higher performance and successful teams.

  • Grow: Create a ripple effect that impacts the broader organization. Make continuous improvement a priority, keeping the focus on the shared vision that inspires solidarity and performance.

The true measure of leadership development is not only how far leaders go but also how far they’re able to take others with them. Ultimately, inspirational leadership is the courage to be shaped by new experiences and acting with humility to win trust.


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