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Leadership development by Chew Han Guan article

Shopping from the leadership development candy store

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With a plethora of material on leadership development, HR managers are spoilt for choice. Chew Han Guan, L&D manager at an aerospace company, brings to the limelight one possible path they can trod while building their leadership development programme. 

With more than half a million books on leaders and leadership, a plethora of competency models and decades of theories, it is clear that leadership development is important. But the cornucopia of thoughts also makes HRD personnel spoilt for choice as they shop in this leadership development candy store for suitable solutions.

The challenge for HRD practitioners is the effective application and implementation of a suitable framework for their organisation. This is not a trivial task and I don’t think there is any magic pill, but I hope to bounce off some ideas on how to start working on a leadership development programme.

Take stock

With the tenets of good leadership propagated so widely in modern management science, from Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive to Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership, among many others, it will be a surprise if an organisation does not have some form of pre-existing leadership development programme.

Thus, a simple and logical first step could be to borrow the simple change management’s Stop, Start, Continue method to evaluate the current programme and get an idea of what works well (and should be continued), what does not (and should be stopped), and what is missing (and needs to be started).

The process also embodies a sense of continuous improvement when periodic review of the current state takes place.

Managerial vs leadership skills

In the 1990s, when John Kotter introduced the idea that in a dynamic business environment, there needs to be a balance of both strong management and strong leadership, it was a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moment for many. It was an idea that once expressed seemed so blatantly obvious.

Management skills are necessary to keep order and structure in the organisation so day-to-day business activities are well taken care of, promoting stability.

On the other hand, leadership skills help the organisation adapt and cope with business volatility by creating a vision and strategy for the future, which can lead to changes and disrupt stability.

Even though these two skill sets may be contradictory, they are complementary as well, much like men and women; without either, the company and world would not function well.

Thus while taking stock, a good litmus test on the quality of the current leadership development programme would be to examine if there is an inadequacy in either of these two areas. If there is, it might not be a bad idea to look at ways to balance things to build a more sustainable leadership framework.

Even though managerial and leadership skill sets may be contradictory, they are complementary as well, much like men and women; without either, the company and world would not function well.

Core leadership competencies

The core values and mission of a company should rightfully encapsulate its key competencies from which its competitive advantage is derived. The key skills of leaders or managers actually lie in the ability to manage or lead a group to achieve these competencies.

And to accomplish their roles calls for a degree of emotional leadership as proposed by Daniel Goleman in his Harvard Business Review article, Leadership That Gets Results, as it tests their ability to manage their relationships effectively with others and influence them to deliver results.

There should also be talent development and management skills as well as strategic and execution elements as pointed out by Dave Ulrich in The Leadership Code, a book which synthesises the essence of effective leadership from the collective intelligentsia.

From here, HRD personnel can deep dive within their organisation to seek out specifics.

For example, a sales manager might need to master negotiation abilities in order to close deals whereas a sales director might need to develop keen business acumen to be able to come up with effective sales and marketing strategies. The corresponding interventions, which can include training, coaching or overseas posting can then be enacted accordingly.

It might also be useful to engage in focus group discussions with upper management to distill what leadership competencies are critical to the company’s business and identify the current leadership skill gaps.

Gap analysis

After building the leadership framework and identifying the core leadership competencies, conduct a competency gap analysis to gather inputs for the leadership development programme.

A quick and dirty way about it could be to get the managerial and leadership level employees to rate their leadership competency levels via self-assessment. The organisation can then prioritise learning and development initiatives based on the results.

This can be further enhanced by getting their superiors to also rate them via a 360-degree assessment. The discrepancies between the ratings can then serve as starting points for discussion on development plans and also provide insights on any inherent issues. I would be surprised if the two assessments were to match completely.

Some organisations incorporate this competency gap analysis into their performance management system to convenience the operations of the process, and also to build synergy and alignment with the goal-setting and the career development action plan.

It’s good to have some form of leadership development at all job levels because at a minimum, everyone needs to lead themselves.

It’s good to have some form of leadership development at all job levels because at a minimum, everyone needs to lead themselves.

Conclusion

Leadership development has always been a hot topic for modern organisations. But it’s important not to jump on the bandwagon without a thorough understanding of the organisational needs.

Admittedly, there is a tremendous amount of information and solutions which is why it can be confusing. I believe HRD practitioners can play a role internally to provide clarity on this issue and I hope my suggestions can help them along.

This article is written in a personal capacity and does not express the views and opinions of my employer.

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