Just a few years back, the term ‘leader’ was mostly reserved for the top rung of the company. However, with the constantly shifting economy, the term has become more pervasive and shifted to other levels; today even front-line employees are expected to lead teams, mid-level managers are required to make strategic decisions and individual contributors are expected to shoulder more responsibilities with less guidance.Few competencies like communication, decision making, adaptability, and innovation, which were earlier deemed necessary only for the top leaders, have made their way into other levels.So the question arises: “Are organizations doing enough to develop their leaders at all levels?”
A study by Deloitte revealed a significant “readiness gap” between the need to develop leaders at all levels and organizations’ ability to actually do it. Organizations often say they want a strong pipeline, yet in reality, the top layer of leaders claims maximum attention leaving behind the other levels yearning for more.Many companies are struggling to find successors for their top jobs, and instances of leaders rising to the top but failing shortly thereafter indicate something is wrong with succession and leadership development practices. Organizations need to reexamine and redesign their strategies to build leadership at all levels on a continuous and sustainable basis.
How to make it happen?
Establishing a culture of leadership development at all levels takes some deliberate and proactive steps, such as:
Empower employees by creating shared ownership: When an organization shares its core purpose and strategy with the employees and grants them enough autonomy to assume leadership roles, they develop a sense of ownership and work harder towards the success of the organization. In this “shared ownership” approach, both employers and employees are vested in the success of the organization.Today employees want to actively participate in achieving the bigger organizational goals.
Adopt a blended learning approach: Relying solely on classroom-based training can be detrimental in the long run as it offers limited transfer of learning. In order to fully develop leaders, organizations need to adopt a blended learning approach combining both on-the-job and formal learning efforts to create maximum impact.Classroom training can be used to set the context,while exposure to real job challenges can help in the transfer of learning. Leaders with newly established skills and behaviors should be monitored and given regular feedback on how they can continue to develop.
Create personalized development journeys: Individuals are unique—andso are their development needs. For an instance, some employees are great communicators while others are great planners. Use assessments to identify individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, then create a personalized leadership development plan for each worker. Employees should then be given opportunities to execute that plan with the help of a mentor, with progress tracked at regular intervals. Ensure employees get the feedback and support necessary to further propel their growth.
Apart from individual learning needs, there are some additional development needs associated with each level of leadership which need to be fulfilled: for instance, first-time leaders often struggle with managing teams, while mid-level leaders mostly burdened with operational challenges may get overwhelmed when given any strategic assignment. Top leaders often struggle with selling their vision and building a culture of trust.Organizations should take care to address these specialized needs.
Build a culture of coaching: Coaching is another important element in the leadership development agenda.Gallup research has found that managers are primarily responsible for their employees’ engagement levels. Direct managers at every level should be trained to coach their direct reports and provide them with constant support. Coaching should become a way of life at all levels of the organization, e.g. peer to peer and across different functions—it is not solely the responsibility of managers.
Align leadership development strategy with business goals: A successful leadership development strategy must also align with business goals. Organizations should have a clear understanding of the current state, the desired state and how to get there. Organizations must be clear about their key business drivers and the need to develop leaders from that purview—for some organizations, foraying into global markets is the key driver, while developing new products may be the primary focus for others . Also, there should be a clear line of sight between investments in leadership and the desired organizational outcomes.
Organizations that invest in their people get rewarded with higher levels of productivity, empowerment, and organizational commitment.Furthermore, effective succession planning calls for organizations have a pool of future-ready leaders to battle unforeseen business challenges.