Leadership development needs to change

Written by
Professor Roger Delves, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School

20 Apr 2020

20 Apr 2020 • by Professor Roger Delves, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School

Those responsible for leadership development must lose the baggage from the past, writes Roger Delves, dean and professor of practice at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School.

It’s hard being a leader in today’s world. Workplaces are full of accidental leaders –professionals with no real desire or intent to lead, who find themselves in positions of significant leadership responsibility. 

Then there are those who want to lead, but find themselves struggling to meet the challenges of a fast-moving business environment where nothing is certain, and thanks to a combination of technology and global competition, markets can be disrupted almost overnight. 

For both these groups, the leadership role can prove to be a bitter cup. They strive, but they don’t thrive. 

A radical rethink around leadership development

It’s not enough just to throw people into the leadership bear pit and expect them to succeed. We urgently need to find new ways to equip individuals with the skills they need to lead effectively in our increasingly volatile and uncertain world. Nothing short of a radical rethink of the way we approach leadership development is needed. 

Hult International Business School, working with global management network EFMD, recently brought together 12 firms including Bayer, L’Oréal, Nokia, UBS and Siemens, to produce a report designed to challenge conventional leadership development by rethinking what is needed to help leaders to thrive. 

Leadership development has to be transformed because in the new world of work, the traditional approach (where learning and development professionals give leaders the recipe) simply won’t wash. It’s inaccurate, misleading and inadequate in the complex, demanding environment that our leaders inhabit today. 

The group agreed that leadership development should be a continuous process, integrated with work, rather than a one-off event, and that experimental learning is the single most effective way to develop leaders. Other insights included that leadership development should be a catalyst for transformational change, with increased resilience of both individuals and the organisation, as a critical outcome. 

Three key underpinning factors

The consistent underpinning narrative is that there is a direct link between leadership behaviour, the way people interact with one another, and the health of the organisation’s culture. For leaders to be able to drive increased productivity and better performance, they must get these three things right: 

• personal leadership qualities 
• interpersonal relationships
• positive cultures 

In today’s uncharted territory, we need our development interventions to deliver leaders who are champions of change, as well as custodians of the company’s culture and values. Resilient, reflective, aware individuals who can create and deepen engagement from teams and individuals. 

Helping leaders to develop in this way means that those responsible for leadership development must lose the baggage from the past. We need to revise what is learned and how it is delivered. Review fundamentals and engage with profound change. Embrace new approaches and new philosophies. Only when we feel we are surrounded by a swathe of exciting innovation will we know that we might be the path towards a vibrant leadership culture on which our leaders are thriving and not striving. 

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