· Features

Talent needs coaching in the art of leadership

In business, the art of leadership has never been more complicated. The formal hierarchy upon which old-style leaders based their authority has diminished in importance. Todays leaders must find new ways to motivate and inspire. They are often stretched to the limit in overseeing geographically dispersed teams, yet must somehow maintain a set of objectives and values meaningful to all. And the skills that get would-be leaders near to the top are often seen as insufficient to help them move to the next level. It is therefore no accident that leadership development is a major theme running through this months Human Resources.

In a fascinating article by Stefan Stern, Simon Brocket, the man responsible for human resources at Coca-Cola Enterprises in the UK, reveals that some unpleasant truths contained in an internal staff survey caused CEO Mark Schortman to move quickly to put the fizz back into the companys leadership development programme. Staff had said something their bosses didnt really want to hear: that the leadership had not bothered to explain the companys strategy. This would not have bothered some CEOs. After all, it wasnt as if business was bad far from it. But it was clear staff believed that the team at the top was benefiting from, rather than adding value to, the hard work of those further down the organisation. In other words, employees were asking that most dangerous of questions for senior management: Mummy, what are those men for?

With Brockets drive and Schortmans support, Coca-Cola Enterprises has taken steps to develop an effective leadership coaching culture. Sandy Begbie, director for group organisation and leadership development at ScottishPower, highlights the importance of getting the CEOs backing in any meaningful leadership programme. Begbie himself is fortunate; the programme for which he is responsible is underpinned by the enthusiasm of Ian Russell, his CEO.

For HR, development of top talent presents perhaps the most promising route to a wider business credibility. Yet its success depends crucially upon the sponsorship of those already in leadership positions. Many CEOs are well-versed in the rhetoric of leadership development, but ultimately take little practical interest in developing their top talent. Priscilla Vacassin, HR director for BAA, recently urged her fellow directors to redouble their efforts to make leadership development a top priority in the years ahead. Why? The sad fact, she says, is that the current generation of CEOs are unlikely to change their views of HR at this stage of their careers. HR credibility therefore depends on educating the next two or three generations of CEOs. We agree.

Trevor Merriden