· 2 min read · Features

Prioritising leadership development in a fast-changing world


How closely does your organisation link leadership development to strategic goals?

Recent research from Harvard Business School found that in our rapidly changing world, executives prioritise defining fresh strategies, but often lack the skills to make these strategies a reality. And many don't have plans in place to address the issue, either.

I don't have to tell you about the actuality of working life today: it's busy, busy, busy. The environment we're operating in is increasingly competitive and uncertain. The things around us change quickly, so we need to adapt quickly too.

When a client of ours spoke recently about "slowing down to speed up", there were a lot of nodding heads in the room. Most of us recognise the importance of taking time out to focus on development, but often fail to prioritise this because other things can appear more urgent.

Because we're all under pressure, it's important that the time we do spend on leadership development is time well spent. After all, developing the right skills and behaviours to achieve your organisation's strategic goals will not only improve performance, it should also make the journey towards success a lot more satisfying and a lot less stressful.

So, what are the skills and behaviours your leaders need to develop? Although some of these will be quite specific to your organisation, there are also some that will benefit leaders in most situations.

In a constantly changing environment, the connections we build across and beyond organisations become increasingly important. One of the most important skills a leader can have is the ability to devolve and share leadership. This helps to create more open, connected and collaborative cultures, which can increase employee engagement and boost innovation. Some leaders find it difficult to 'let go', and so learning and development can help increase understanding as well as develop specific skills. An emphasis on devolved decision making is particularly important in large global organisations, and can help to create more effective virtual team working. Developing the skills and opportunities to build a powerful network with a broad mix of perspectives can really help leaders to deliver strategic goals. Highly 'connected' organisations tend to be more agile, better able to take advantage of new opportunities and to act quickly to deliver strategic goals.

Hand-in-hand with shared leadership goes values-based leadership. Encouraging leaders to explore their own values in line with the values of your organisation can develop more authentic leadership, which helps to build trust. This in turn contributes to the type of open and collaborative culture that can really accelerate the rate of strategy execution.

Harvard Business School's survey of more than 500 global leaders found a third of business executives (34%) said they will not make 'attracting and developing talent' an increased priority this year. Again, it's worthwhile just slowing down a little to think about really integrating your talent strategy with your strategic business goals. An increasing focus on really effective, targeted leadership development can help to develop not only today's senior leaders, but also the future leaders within your organisation. Targeted assessment to highlight learning needs can ensure that development is fine-tuned to the needs of the individual as well as aligned to strategy.

As Stephen Bevan from the Work Foundation recently commented, the recession has put leadership under scrutiny. It has challenged us to get out of the comfort zone of rolling out tried-and-tested development programmes, and to rethink leadership and talent. If, as Harvard Business School's study has shown, executives are going to prioritise defining new strategies, we also need to create smarter talent and development solutions to ensure these new strategies lead to great results.

Nicky Little (pictured) head of leadership at Cirrus