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By Eric Morello, Global Head Client Services & Certification Delivery, Top Employers institute
By Eric Morello, Global Head Client Services & Certification Delivery, Top Employers institute

Leadership: What should be front of mind today for an HRD?

Definitions and theories about leadership have never been in short supply. Some go back centuries and new ones come to light as leadership styles change and develop. While it is clear that there is no one right way to lead, here are some common themes that can help HRDs explore what leadership means for their organisation, and what they need to do to facilitate an optimal leadership development strategy.

The elements of leadership

However it is defined, leadership has three core elements:

  • The leaders,
  • Other people (such as followers and other stakeholders), and
  • The job to be done (the common goal).

A sense of ‘purpose’ needs to be weaved through these three elements for them to work well together. Only when leaders create a sense of purpose for themselves, others and for the task at hand, will everyone know why they are playing their roles, be willing to collaborate, and will bring forward their own ideas or values to share.

The nature of leadership

There are also three aspects to the nature of modern leadership that are really important for an HRD to keep in mind:

  • Leaders are everywhere. Leadership today isn’t just about a chosen few – and it isn’t even associated with a formally-defined role. Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, for example, has no formal leadership position but clearly is a leader in the debate around climate change. So while leadership is usually exercised by those in charge, being in charge is not necessarily a requirement in order to lead. This is important because as organisations become more agile, there is a growing recognition that all employees need in some way to demonstrate leadership qualities.
  • Leadership styles vary. Successful leaders have different personalities, and will behave differently, even in similar situations. Equally, leaders will adapt their behaviour in different circumstances. Leaders are not always best suited for every situation: a leader being very successful in crisis time might not be a good fit to run an organisation in steady times.
  • Leadership is a capability. Leadership is a capability that the organisations can and must develop. Further studies in the nature of leadership reveal the importance of the interaction between various elements, such as leaders, followers, context and outcomes. Through this lens, we can consider leadership as an interactive process. Therefore, the success of leadership development measures needs to take these elements into account. And in times of great uncertainty, the sense of purpose that this creates is crucial for success.

What does this mean for leadership development?

The Top Employers Institute HR Best Practices Survey identifies several areas for HRDs to evaluate and measure. In particular, they should be asking themselves whether they are doing the following:

  • Creating a structure and embedding a culture that encourages and enables leadership: do they have a definition of their leadership culture, and have they put it in place?
  • Identifying the capability to lead others effectively: this can be achieved by introducing leadership competency models and methods or tools to identify high-potential candidates.
  • Developing the capability to lead others effectively: this means not only having a strategy for leadership development but also a framework and process through which leaders can mentor future leaders.
  • Selecting future leaders: are leaders responsible for developing the leadership pipeline, and is there actually a succession plan in place?
  • Enabling leadership styles: for example, are leaders being encouraged to share their development objectives, demonstrating inclusivity and leading others with a real sense of purpose?
  • Seeking feedback from followers: do HR leaders have a leadership satisfaction index, and do they measure participation rates in leadership initiatives?

Four trends in leadership development

Our HR Trends Report 2020 can also help HRDs with their thinking. The report identifies four trends in leadership development. These are:

  • The role of leaders and managers as career coaches. 95% of Top Employers agree that their executive management has a role to play in driving the change towards an employee development culture. This requires a change in mindset among leaders to that of career advisors, helping people to make development decisions for themselves and still feeling supported by their organisation.
  • Flexible conversations around development, not just performance. Leaders should no longer be using performance management as a tool to measure output but as one to develop employees. Top Employers are turning these into meaningful conversations, held more regularly than once a year.
  • Communicating transparently with employees. Transparency is more significant and necessary now than ever before. In the midst of all the changes affecting leading organisations worldwide, Top Employers know leaders have to offer their employees clear guidance and treat them with respect and trust.
  • New methods and a focus on soft skills. New methods of learning are emerging rapidly, and they are more self-driven and continously improved by new technologies. And soft skills have become essential to leadership success and Top Employers are increasingly encouraging teams to learn from one another.

While leadership is an evolving, complex, and much discussed subject, it is essential to understand the common elements and nature of modern leadership. Best practices and the latest trends in leadership development from Top Employers can help HRDs across the globe to ensure that good leadership skills are developed within their organisations so that they are fit to face any uncertain future.