We had an interesting discussion with a client recently about models for leadership development, specifically how the approach to identifying and nurturing potential leaders has changed over the years and how it should be tackled now.
I think it’s fair to say that our discussion begged as many questions as it answered but that’s no surprise; leadership has always been a meaty subject for debate – never more so than when the leaders of FTSE 100 companies hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. Think Enron,Tesco etc.
Much has changed in the business of leadership development. Leaders were originally thought to be born to the role: the ‘Great Man’ theory says that leadership is an innate ability. The trouble with that idea is that you end up with some pretty horrific leaders, by virtue of their parentage. Once the penny dropped that leaders could be found in a wider group rather than just those born to the role, various models started to emerge. And they just keep on coming. You only need to search ‘leadership models’ in Google Images to see how prolific they are!
In the 1940s and 50s, trait theory looked for traits that were common to all leaders. Moving into the 1960s ideas about leadership shifted from traits to examining what behaviour patterns were key to leadership. In the 1980s situational leadership sent researchers down the track of looking for specific behaviours that were successful for leadership in particular circumstances.
Finally, we’re starting to see a growing acknowledgement that leadership isn’t one-size-fits-all. Just as we don’t all fit neatly into one of four little coloured boxes, we can’t possibly expect all leaders to fit the same model. We all bring the richness of our experiences and our personality to everything we do at work. And the workplace is better off because of it. Surely we should be thinking about leadership development the same way.
Leadership development pillars
When helping clients define leadership development competencies, we focus minds around three pillars of leadership, not dissimilar to Daniel Goleman’s triple focus for great leadership.
Instead of measuring characteristics or behaviours in a context that may or may not be relevant to your business, we prefer to focus on how the individual uses his/her skills and attributes to lead the wider organisation and team whilst developing his/her own capabilities.
If leadership skills can be measured against these three pillars, a coherent hierarchy is created.
Leadership focus on the organisation steers it towards excellence by
- demonstrating commitment to the organisation’s goals
- articulating the vision
- maintaining their awareness of the external world and it’s impact on the business.
Leadership focus on teams
- increases motivation
- builds team performance
- fosters collaborative working.
Leadership focus on self
- drives own performance towards excellence – leading by example
- sets realistic stretch goals
- maintains resilience to ensure sustainable leadership.
How are you structuring and measuring your leadership development? Is your approach the right one for your organisation and its culture? Do your leaders know how they are perceived by their colleagues, at all levels in the organisation?