Human Cap Trends May 15

There are few business concepts that attract as much attention as leadership development. Just Google it. You’ll find tens of thousands of articles on “effective leadership”, “traits of efficient leaders” and pithy quotes trying to simplify the complexity of effective leadership development into a soundbite.

And why not? After all, it’s an incredibly important and increasingly pressing issue for companies of all shapes and sizes. Nearly nine out of ten HR and business leaders rate leadership as a top issue, according to our Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report.

By contrast, just six per cent think their leadership pipeline is “very ready” for the years ahead. That’s indicative of the gaps that exist in many organisations’ talent pools, many of which are crying out to be developed.  

The abundance of information available online on good leadership development can be overwhelming – and the most effective leaders have better things to do than spend all day on the internet. So which of the 20,000 tips readily available are right for you? And, for that matter, which of the many approaches on offer best fits your organisation?

Scything through this, there are some key insights of successful leadership development which seem to work consistently across sectors. Here are my top five:

Leadership is an action, not a position: Leadership shouldn’t be seen as confined to the CEO or even the senior team. Leadership is an action, not a position, and people at all levels should be encouraged to demonstrate it; whether that’s through commercial acumen or professional leadership. Some of the best customer service organisations allow their most junior people to exercise leadership by making key customer decisions and owning quality of service at the front line.    

Build a pipeline of future leaders: Less than half of C-suite executives told us they feel they are receiving any development at all. Worse, just six per cent of respondents rated their programmes for millennials as “excellent” – despite this age group having huge appetite for leadership. Organisations need to invest at all levels to build a strong pipeline of leaders networks and ensure there is a regular supply of appropriately skilled talent coming through.

It’s a continuous process: It’s tempting to think that developing leaders is a one-off event or something which happens every now and then. In fact, many organisations consider it something for the good times. But, whether it’s times of plenty or scarcity, businesses and public sector bodies should continually develop their top talent. After all, organisations need the best leadership when times are tough.

Consistency: At the heart of any leadership development programme should be a set of core concepts around which everything is based. That means consistent language and a consistent set of ideas for everyone to buy into. If that’s achieved and a critical mass of practitioners is built, these ideas will take root in the organisation and help you weave the capabilities required across the business.

Foster an alumni network: Who better to impart their knowledge than the people who have been there and done it? Building and nurturing an alumni network should be part of any leadership development programme. Group-based learning and peer support networks are just some of the ways the best organisations expose their future leaders to the expertise of those currently in senior positions (and vice versa!). 

Whatever route you decide to go down, make sure your leadership programme is practical and has a business focus – that will get the best engagement out of participants.

But if you take just one thing from this blog post let it be this: leadership is for the many, not just the few.

You may also be interested in:

Human Capital Trends 2015

Millennial Survey 2015

Four ways people power could be the key to tackling public sector debt

Leaders at all levels

The Leadership premium


Adam King

Adam King - Director, Consulting

Adam King leads Deloitte’s People and Programmes team in Scotland, with a personal focus on leadership development, strategic change and organisation design. 

With a background in the public sector, working for a Training and Enterprise Council in Oxfordshire, Adam has worked as a consultant over the last 13 years.


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