Leadership is considered as one of the pillars of a growing company. As the organization expands, its members should be able to take on roles that call for their leadership skills. As such, it is essential to create opportunities for leadership development. Whether in a formal or informal position, leaders drive the company’s progress, including strategizing, developing plans, evaluating progress, and communicating with various members and stakeholders (Charan, Drotter, & Noel, 2011).
However, one of the challenges to developing one’s leadership skills in an organization is the difference in the personalities and traits of various members (Robbins, Millet, & Waters-Marsh). That means a formalized leadership training is required to develop various competencies. Vital skills such as communication, accountability, collaboration, negotiation, and change management can be developed through traditional and experience-based programs.
This article highlights these key elements of leadership development and how they contribute to creating a competent leader. Furthermore, it will examine the benefits of such programs to the individual and the organization. At the end of the article, the reader should have an understanding of the various components of leadership development.
Identifying and training potential and existing leaders are among the most significant challenges that many organizations face. Aside from recruiting talented members, leadership development should be a priority among growing companies.
A study by Deloitte found that up to 56% of executives think that their organizations are not prepared to meet today’s leadership expectations and needs. Additionally, leadership development programs are the most in-demand learning opportunity among employees.
Source: 2018 Workplace Learning Report
While many companies offer such programs in varying forms, many are inconsistent or sporadic, such as limited online courses. Similar methods do not formally develop and evaluate the leadership skills of trainees. A fully developed leadership training program is required to ensure that all aspects of potential leaders are addressed.
These initiatives are often unique as they need to align with the organization’s business goals and visions. However, they should be composed of five key elements—communication, collaboration and management, accountability, influence and negotiation, and change management.
Communication is a vital skill for any member of the organization. For leaders who manage members, it becomes a necessary skill. While it is not new in leadership development, communication should be continuously evaluated and optimized. Such an ability cannot be learned just by watching a video or reading a training manual.
Leaders and members communicate throughout their day, from presentation to personal conversations. It also includes sending emails, video conferencing, calling, and chatting through various platforms. Also, communication styles vary significantly depending on the leader’s professional relationship with various members, colleagues, tools, and business goals.
Effective leaders are able to combine emotional and rational elements when interacting with various individuals. This shows that soft skills such as communication are as important as other managerial and leadership abilities, especially in achieving organizational excellence.
For example, research among public university administrators in Malaysia reported that their soft skills are directly related and vital to their perceived trustworthiness (Tang, Ariratana, & Treputharan, 2013). It shows that the staff members are more likely to trust their administrators when they have frequent interaction.
A core part of managing a team is to create opportunities for learning. Aside from evaluating the members’ performances, coaching is a vital part of training them to maximize their potential for improvement. Coachable and learning moments can happen at any time. An effective leader with strong coaching skills can leverage these and create a learning experience for both them and their members.
Currently, managerial coaching is considered as an effective leadership practice (Ratiu et al., 2017). Experts say that it is a core part of an employee’s learning process. It also ensures that they are performing better and increasing their effectiveness in the organization.
According to a Gallup survey, only 30% of employees strongly agree that they have someone at work who encourages their development. It highlights the demand for a leader who can guide employees and provide a roadmap for success. Yearly employee reviews can only go so far. Modern workers desire time, feedback, and motivation as these allow them to develop their skills. And leaders should be able to provide these.
Another part of coaching is the ability of leaders to collaborate. It promotes strategic relationship building, open communication, information sharing, and a deeper understanding of workplace dynamics (O’Brien, Littlefield, & Goddard-Truitt, 2013).
Productive leaders know that their success depends more on their team’s accomplishments and performance more than their own. They are no longer considered as individual contributors to the organization and will not be evaluated as such. Consequently, they are accountable for the actions and results of others and their own as well.
As such, leaders should be able to define accountabilities, including his/her own. They should be able to monitor and evaluate those commitments. Furthermore, relevant reports should be generated to develop actionable information that the team can use in order to monitor its performance and produce the desired results.
A Landmark Workplace Accountability Study conducted by Partners in Leadership (2014) shows the results of the lack of accountability among managers and supervisors. Out of 40,000 participants, 93% are unable to take accountability for the outcomes of their tasks due to unclear goals and priorities. The majority of participants are also unclear about their company’s expected results. Additionally, they see their leaders’ behavior as a key element that influences responsibility in their companies.
Source: Landmark Workplace Accountability StudyDesigned by
In a separate study among agribusiness professionals, managers, and supervisors in the industry unanimously agree that being accountable is the most important characteristic in their skillset (Smalley et al., 2016). Along with effective communication, accountability has the most influence on members of the organization.
Needless to say, collaborative members can only achieve their goals if they are led by an individual who encourages them to focus on their work and objectives. Leaders should be able to provide neutral support and promote both public and individual accountability within the team (O’Brien et al., 2013).
Gone are the days when leaders command through authority. Modern leaders persuade, inspire, and encourage others in order to reach their goals. Leaders with strong influence are more effective in making sure that their employees achieve quality results over leaders who capitalize on power. In fact, influence is the defining difference between leaders and managers (Eggleston, 2016).
Influencing the behavior of team members, peers, clients, and superiors is not a one-time event. It is a continuous process where leaders cultivate among their networks. A core part of the process is negotiation.
Engagement and involvement with various individuals and groups within and outside the organization mean leaders serve as a convergence of different views, beliefs, and objectives (Gentry & Sparks, 2011). Consequently, the ability to manage conflict between various stakeholders to reconcile motivations and interests in order to achieve a common goal is required.
At its most basic form, negotiation should allow various parties to come to a beneficial agreement and provide support to each other (Salacuse, 2019). Furthermore, a skilled negotiator forms constructive and positive partnerships that efficiently deliver results. Using their influence, they can resolve conflict and minimize emotions.
Experienced leaders take negotiations further by taking a proactive approach to negotiation. They develop strategic networks and use it to gain support for relevant objectives and plans. Additionally, they build support and commitment among various stakeholders to establish communication, especially when a consensus is required.
Successful organizations are never static. They should effectively adjust to changes in the industry, marketplace, and customer behavior. Also, they should be able to weather employee turnovers, changes due to company growth, and various factors that cause continuous changes. As such, leaders should serve as guides through the changes. Therefore, it is important that they are trained in change management in order to handle and even anticipate the effects of changes and how to leverage them.
At the core of change management is strategic management. It combines integrated, systematic, and process-oriented approaches. Furthermore, change management is a continuous process that aims to maintain the company’s competitiveness by adapting to the changes (Dzwigol et al., 2019).
In fact, the effectiveness of change management is correlated with meeting project goals and objectives. In a survey by Prosci, 93% of companies with excellent and established change management programs have met or exceeded their goals.
Leaders and teams who are trained to handle changes of varying significance are six times more likely to meet their goals than those with poor change management experience. Even those with average change management programs are three times more likely to succeed than those without.
When an organization fails to develop potential leaders within, it also misses key opportunities for growth. Lack of leadership results in low morale, high employee turnover, absenteeism, low productivity, and other issues.
Future leaders gravitate toward companies that offer training and development. It could be formal training programs, mentoring opportunities, or collaboration with higher-ups or other teams. However, it seems that organizations have yet to take advantage of such a drive from their employees.
For example, 63% of Millennials say that their employers are not helping them develop their leadership skills (Human Resources Professionals Association, 2016). Furthermore, 71% of Millennials who are planning to leave their company within two years cite this deficiency.
Source: Human Resources Professionals Association
A leadership development program does not only benefit individual employees. When organizations actively train their employees to become leaders, they can expect significant improvements in employee retention, change management, and the company’s overall financial performance.
The members of the organization are the immediate beneficiaries of leadership development. Aside from enhancing their skills, they can put into practice what they learned during training. Depending on the program, it may even be integrated with their current work.
Role clarity is often overlooked in most organizations. As the members gain more experience and develop their skills, their capabilities and responsibilities are no longer limited to their job descriptions when they were hired. Furthermore, limiting them to specific job roles limits their potential contributions to the organization.
Leaders are trained to recognize and define the roles of their members. It involves an in-depth understanding of each member’s abilities and how they can contribute as an individual and as a part of a group. They are able to communicate with the members about their specific responsibilities, which increases accountability.
Additionally, this reduces confusion. Leaders are able to look at the big picture and assess if there is any overlap in roles. As such, they can ensure that each member’s productivity is maximized. This makes achieving the company’s goals much more efficient.
When considering leadership development, it is important to reconcile the difference between the individual’s skills and what the organization wants. Therefore, the program should include various methods to fill this gap in skills and experience.
In many organizations, hard skills are often the priority, especially during hiring. When the employee is ready for promotion to a leadership role, they often lack the formal training and experience in one or more of the following soft skills:
The program should be able to identify these gaps and provide an opportunity for potential leaders to develop and improve their skills through deliberate learning and evaluation.
A key characteristic of a leader is effective problem-solving. It includes analyzing the problem and identifying its root cause. A mindset geared toward problem-solving also creates an open-minded and strategic team geared towards finding all possible solutions.
Why is it important to develop problem-solving among leaders of the organization?
About 86% of companies with strong leadership development programs have the ability to respond to challenges in an unpredictable market (Center for Creative Leadership, n.d.-a). It is a significant improvement to only 52% of organizations with less developed leadership training.
Having leaders with strong problem-solving skills is a significant advantage for any organization. They are able to examine various elements within and outside the organization and develop relevant plans to take advantage of opportunities. They can also anticipate potential issues or threats that may arise and minimize their effects on the organization.
Leaders are trained and developed within the company in order to provide a competitive advantage, increase productivity, and create strategies. Consequently, around 8% of organizations spend as much as $10,000 per year per person on leadership development and other relevant programs (Prokopeak, 2018).
Source: Chief Learning Officer
Simply recruiting the talent is not enough anymore. Developing the existing members is necessary in order to compete with the ever-changing industry.
A manager’s leadership style can affect the organization, especially in employee retention. Since they are the ones who interact and build relationships with each member, they directly influence whether an employee stays or leaves.
In fact, 32.5% of employees say that they would leave due to a bad manager. Consequently, simply changing the leadership style can have an important effect on employees. This is where leadership development matters (Accounting Principals, 2018).
Aside from compensation and benefits, what keeps individuals from walking away?
Employees are more engaged with their colleagues, managers, and the organization when they feel supported and valued by effective leaders. Up to 53% of individuals report that they have increased loyalty towards their superiors when they have positive professional relationships with them (Accounting Principals, 2018).
This shows that connecting and engaging the members of the organization is key to retaining talents.
No organization is immune to changes. Companies face rapid changes from customers’ interests to market trends. As such, they should be able to adapt as fast as possible. The ability of organizations to anticipate changes ensures not only their survival but success as well.
Just as mentioned in the previous section, up to 86% of companies with well-developed leadership training are able to adapt to rapid changes. Their leaders are able to develop flexible plans that can take advantage of opportunities and mitigate threats should they arise.
At the very least, businesses are expected to react effectively to unexpected changes in various aspects of the market. Along with technology, their leaders and members should be able to achieve their business goals and maintain a competitive edge.
These advantages eventually translate to a better financial bottom-line. While specific studies relating to the correlation of leadership development and company revenue are very limited, about 65% of organizations with on-going leadership training report that they have experienced better results (Center for Creative Leadership, n.d.-b).
Harvard Business Review also highlighted the positive effect of leadership development in the company’s bottom line. Organizations that focus on developing their members’ delivered stock markets return five times more than those who did not focus on similar programs (Bassi & McMurrer, 2007). This shows the positive relationship between leadership and financial performance.
Hard skills have been the sole focus of organizations in recruiting and developing talent. As such, many members lack the necessary soft skills that make a great leader. Human resources professionals highlight this issue by identifying top skill shortages among job applicants, most of which are soft skills (Society for Human Resource Management, 2017).
Source: Society For Human Resource Management
Consequently, organizations are looking to close this skills gap, especially in their leaders. As much as 74% of companies use instructor-led training programs (Westfall, 2019). Interestingly, the top priority is improving the leaders’ coaching skills, which is one of the key elements of an effective program.
Source: Chief Learning Officer
Unsurprisingly, the leadership training industry is continuously growing. It is estimated that global spending for such programs reached as much as $370.3 billion in 2019 (Training Industry, 2020).
Source: Training Industry
Leaders no longer rely on their hard skills. Managing people, monitoring productivity, and developing plans are just some of their responsibilities that require soft skills. Companies are aiming to bridge this gap in skills through leadership development programs.
Just like any practice, only well-developed leadership training can produce effective leaders. A successful program includes five key elements—communication, coaching, accountability, influence and negotiation, and change management. These skills equip leaders with the necessary abilities to create meaningful relationships, strategize, and adapt to changes.
With various markets increasingly becoming competitive, organizations are continuously nurturing their talents in order to meet the challenge. Gaining a competitive advantage does not rely on hard skills anymore. As such, they are investing in leaders with excellent soft skills in order to succeed.