Leadership development

The CIPD describes leadership as involving the development and articulation of an initial vision, inspiring others with an overview of how that vision can be achieved, while management translates it into reality, all historically based on military principles of command and control: the development, planning, organisation, co-ordination and implementation of goals, strategies, tactics and policies.

Both leadership and management are intertwined – leaders have to manage, managers have to lead – and from supervisors and line managers, many employees have leadership roles, which can be defined as the ability to influence people to achieve a common goal by means of personal attributes and behaviours rather than skills; people respond to leaders they instinctively, almost intuitively, trust.

This focus on personal traits and behaviours suggests that, whether they are ‘born’ or can be ‘made’, some people will have more innate capacity as effective leaders. There is however evidence that leadership skills can be developed, if not taught from scratch; academic studies have shown effective behaviours are underpinned by potentially unconscious developmental processes, e.g. the more a leader thinks of ! themselves as such, the more they will act like one and develop associated skills.

Further research that good or bad experiences can affect leadership (good ones reinforcing leader identity, bad ones weakening it) also highlights the need for organisations to support leadership development. It goes without saying that honesty and integrity is a key characteristic – honesty was by far the most important ‘soft’ value for UK employees in the Randstad Award report – and other key behaviours future leaders need include:

fairness – treating everyone equally and on merit, keeping promises 

being positive – focusing on the right way of doing things rather than simply condemning the wrong way

listening to opinions, making decisions – even if the decision is to do nothing

appreciating that along with profit go social and corporate responsibilities (the triple bottom line)

leading by example – working harder and being more determined than anyone else, not being seen to rant and rave, breaking down barriers, encouraging people to relax

understanding the buck stops with them – taking responsibility for failings – and that the credit doesn’t rest with them, making sure plaudits are directed to their team and not themselves.

Skills

Leadership theories have changed dramatically in recent years – there are advocates of differing theories on ‘relational’ (open, communicative), ‘values-based’ (ethical, authentic), and ‘contextual’ (constant change, no easy answers, collaborative) – but communication, approachability, flexibility and individual consideration are central to the leadership skill-set required today.

The tone and style of leadership will also influence, and in smaller businesses perhaps dictate, the culture and values of an organisation: simplistically, either consensual or bullying leadership will tend to be mirrored at all levels. It has even been suggested that organisational leadership styles echo political leadership (think of the lack of trust in politicians widely reported) but one clear change seems to have emerged: the rising ! importance of employee engagement, not least for staff retention, has brought ‘engaging leadership’ to the fore. “The best way of increasing engagement levels in the UK is to ensure more leaders understand the concept and what it can deliver,” writes David MacLeod in the seminal government report Engaging for Success.

The report identifies two major drivers of success as “managers who offer clarity, appreciation of employees’ efforts and contribution” and, most important, “leadership which ensures a strong, transparent and explicit organisational culture which gives employees a line of sight between their job and the vision and aims of the organisation”.