Scaling leadership development is the single fastest way to create new capabilities across an organisation. There is no ‘silver bullet’ to achieve this: coaching is a potential solution but not cost-effectively scalable and emerging digital products show promise, but remain untested.
Whatever the means of delivery, there is one certainty – when it comes to organisational life, culture drives everything. But the lack of solutions to scalable leadership development means that too many businesses end up with a culture of ‘followership’ rather than ‘leadership’. With this, they lose their ability to draw everyone in the organisation to develop and perform to their full potential.
Can everyone be a leader?
One of the greatest challenges we face at CharacterScope is in tackling perceptions about the nature of leadership. The word ‘leader’ brings to mind those in positions at the top levels of an organisation. The idea of viewing everyone intrinsically as a leader can come across as idealistic and unrealistic. It also seems to underestimate the impact top level leadership has on a business.
Yet at its simplest level, leadership is a choice. We are leading every time we make a decision, push a conversation in a certain direction or go out of our way to support a colleague or friend. It is less about position and more about disposition. However, this philosophy instinctively seems incompatible with long-standing hierarchical systems. So let’s we reframe the question: if not leadership, does an organisation need followers?
Many leaders see it as their responsibility to energise their team to tackle and solve the operational problems, challenges and complexity which naturally arise in a business. But if the team has the capability to solve them, then why do they need motivating and inspiring? If leadership translates to action, then the risk with a follower mentality is that it naturally tends towards inaction. The result all too often is an abundance of watching, waiting, debating and uncertainty. And even worse, of people blaming and criticising their leaders for not being good enough – placing the reason for their own lack of motivation and satisfaction on their leaders.
A culture that sets direction
That is not to deny the critical impact of senior leaders: leadership culture is formed from the top down. Culture is effectively a self-supporting web of beliefs and behaviours. Over time these become leadership practices and eventually create an environment that attracts people who share their values. It is essential that an organisations culture aligns with their overarching business strategy: if the two are at odds, leaders at the top must recognise that change starts with them.
An interdependent leadership culture functions on the principle of leadership being a collective activity which strengthens the organisation as a whole. With a clear shared purpose, culture and values, the entire dynamics of an organisation become much more connected.
A culture that drives development
Leadership development revolves around recognising and unlocking potential: identifying our natural talents, having a vision of ourselves leading, and working to turn that vision into a reality. It is rooted in the mentality that each one of us already has natural strengths of character and that becoming a good leader is driven by service in the area of those strengths.
Organisations that have a culture of leadership development use these principles to create a widespread understanding of each individuals’ value and unique contribution. This is not dependent on the time or money invested in tools: it is dependent on a culture that provides the right commitment, focus and environment.
Leadership capability needs time and space to grow and people must feel their growth is valued. They also need to be able to openly discuss and reflect on their progress and the obstacles they face and be able to experiment with new ideas. They must feel that management and their peers understand the importance of devoting time to development and have the freedom to do so.
A culture that drives performance
Building a leadership culture goes beyond investing in and mentoring the next generation of high performers. Organisations that prioritise leadership development lead in attracting, retaining, and nurturing the best talent. Top level leaders that have the self-awareness and put the time and energy into harmonising their organisational culture and their business goals create a more driven and connected organisation. A developmental mindset empowers that talent to go beyond their comfort zone, with an awareness of their natural strengths. A culture that embeds these principles inevitably drives a company to high performance. It tends to adopt core values. It inspires employee and client engagement. It aspires to lead in its industry. It organically fosters innovation and collaboration while recognising and unlocking potential.
Imagine an organisation full of people that understand their own value, the strengths of their peers and their potential. Where every team functions at peak performance, understands the organisation’s overarching business goals and has a true sense of purpose and direction. This is the catalyst for business transformation.