Strategy & LeadershipHow to develop leadership skills in the workplace

How to develop leadership skills in the workplace

How can organisations create leadership development programmes to foster the business leaders of the future? Here are some top tips from HRD Connect.

Every business is totally unique. No two sectors are same, nor are two companies within that sector. No two employees within a company are the same, and no two employees learn in the same way.

But, when it comes to developing leadership skills, a common template has been drawn over many years, though the approach towards each individual employee continues to be unique.

Leadership isn’t something that can be learnt from a book. Leadership is often described as a set of behaviours and skills which can be trained and enhanced, though not like other skills required in the workplace.

Developing great leadership skills requires a hands-on experience, that gives leaders the opportunity to build their leadership capabilities and transfer their learned skills and principles to the workplace.

Here are a few interesting statistics about effective leadership that demonstrate the importance of developing leadership skills:

No matter where you are on the career ladder, it is never too late to start or continue developing your leadership skills.

Why are leadership skills in the workplace so important?

In today’s fast-moving business world, one with an increasing number of flat hierarchies, every employee needs good leadership skills. Even if they don’t supervise a team or are a junior employee, a company needs to work on developing the leadership skills of every employee for their productivity, and to enable them to be a fully contributing member of the organisation. As a result, employees will be in a better position to advance their career and get ahead in life.

An organization can only achieve as much as its leaders allow. Strong leadership includes being able to communicate, motivate and plan effectively. The results of effective leadership include a stronger team and increased productivity.

Developing leadership skills is essential, owing to the many values it provides for a business, including:

Motivation

As an employee at the top of a hierarchy, a leader’s role is to make sure all other employees do their jobs the right way. Thus, one of the key leadership skills important to any company is the ability to motivate others. Part of the ability to motivate people is to be a good role model and set high standards of performance, accountability and behaviour. As a by-product of having strong leadership skills, a leader will create a team that strives to achieve those same high standards.

Vision

Seeing the bigger picture is a key leadership attribute, and part of this is having the knack to see areas of opportunity and act on them. Looking to the future is an attribute which separates leaders from non-leaders. With a well-executed plan, leaders can generate growth and prosperity for their companies. However, that vision must be paired with the ability communicate ideas in a clear and authoritative way.

Crisis Management

The ability to manage conflicts, sudden emergencies, or any other negative events is essential even in the most well-planned environment. The ability to deal with inevitable crises effectively and quickly is a crucial skill for a leader. Stronger leadership skills during emergencies minimize their negative impact, while poor leadership skills in dealing with such events can make potential problems much worse.

Collaboration

One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to provide guidance to staff on how to do their jobs with minimal management, allowing them to become mostly self-sufficient. Leaders who opt for a bullying or authoritarian attitude will see little growth in their teams. Instead, leaders must listen to employees, ask questions, and develop an environment where employees have the means and confidence to grow on their own when needed. Leaders foster a spirit of collaboration among their staff members. This contributes to high morale and greater productivity, and signifies the importance of good leadership skills to the company.

The traditional start to leadership skills development process

Analysing the employee

The first step is to understand what kind of a person an employee is. The answer to this question might help to determine what kind of leadership style the employee will relate to, and which leadership skills might be the most relevant to that employee.

Goals, purposes, and expectations

The employee’s personal goals, purpose and expectations need to be analysed, as they need to be married not just to the employee’s professional goals, but also to that of the company.

An alignment of all three is pertinent to hit that sweet spot, in building leadership skills programmes for different employees.

Analysing their strengths and weaknesses

No leader is born with all the right skills to succeed. It takes time and effort to improve leadership skills, and it begins with a thorough examination of the employee’s strengths and weaknesses. A strong knowledge of their inborn abilities means that the company can put them to work, while an understanding of their weaknesses provides the company with areas they can improve on. Addressing their shortcomings leads to true growth, which needs to be addressed in the leadership skills development process.

Deviation from the traditional leadership skills development process

Once the strengths and weaknesses of the employees have been taken into account, it’s time to move away from the traditional leadership skills model.

A new leadership skills development process

To compete in today’s business sphere, companies must shift toward a lean and simplified approach in developing their leadership skills development process. Shifting to a clear and concise leadership skills development process can help companies acclimate to a rapidly changing environment and focus on outcomes, rather than sticking too rigidly to definitions that already exist.

Here is why the traditional leadership skills process is flawed:

  • Traditional leadership skills models are notorious for providing too much information, with dozens of categories, competencies, levels of competencies, and proficiencies described in a single model.
  • Older leadership skills models don’t place the focus on the end user to foster greater capability-model understanding, impact, and resilience.
  • The old models lack inclusion of concise, clear, and relevant tools that organizational leaders and their employees can understand and apply to their roles, which is crucial to effective leadership skills modelling.

All employees can be leaders

Companies must embrace the idea that all employees can be leaders in their own context. Companies must never start with an abstract definition of leadership or a checklist—the ‘five things you need to do to be a leader’—and then try to fit people to the mould. Instead, companies must recognize that the things the employees do well and define how they lead. Those are the strengths they have and the areas where their talents really shine. So, leadership skills development should be about how the company can leverage those strengths in a more meaningful way, to be more effective.

Capabilities and potential

Traditional leadership skills development processes refer to both the skills a leader must have, and the inborn personality traits related to those leadership skills. New leadership skills development processes should make a key distinction between what leaders can do, in terms of their capabilities, and the personal factors that allow them to develop those skills, referring to their potential.

Looking outside

A traditional leadership skills development process has companies always looking inside their four walls and making a list of who their exceptional leaders are, how they operate, and the values that they hold. In doing so, companies essentially ignore vital catalysts for effective leadership that might be present outside the company.

Leadership skills with situational awareness

A good leadership skills development process considers the bigger picture, and helps employees to anticipate problems before they occur. This is one of the most valuable leadership skills to have when handling complex projects with tight deadlines. The leadership skills development process must develop an employee’s ability to foresee outcomes and provide suggestions for avoiding potential problems. This ability also helps to recognize opportunities that others overlook, which will certainly earn recognition.

Nurturing specific leadership skills

Mobility in the modern workplace has made job changes and cross-industry moves a common occurrence. This increased mobility means that many younger employees may not gain significant expertise in the industry in which they are currently working, which will make it harder for them to gain overall leadership skills. Companies need to encourage employees to settle down in order to develop the range of leadership skills they need to lead.

Horses for courses

It’s crucial that companies develop leadership skills processes that are not only lean and simple, but include key tactics and expressions for future leaders to use in difficult scenarios. Most leaders do the same things at the fundamental level, but their approach is personalized to each situation. A homegrown leadership skills development process is generally lean and concise and entails only a few competencies that are intended to be applied to the entire organization. In this way, a homegrown leadership skills development process is simpler and easier to use.

Leadership skills development programmes can also be a performance accelerator

Leadership skills development programmes must be based on a simple formula. Leadership skills are deeply personal and exclusive, but they are also strongly connected with collective success. Leadership skills have a personal connection towards performance and outcomes, and have a personal connection to the company’s mission, vision, and strategic priorities.

Second in command

Companies can upgrade the leadership skills of their employees by providing training, but there is another, unique way for employees to learn leadership skills. The company can build leadership skills from the current crop of leaders. Identifying a second in command as a leader is a step that a good leadership skills development programme needs to have.

The basis of this aspect of the leadership skills development process is to support the current leader and build business continuity. This harnesses motivation within the employees, as it is a chain of advancement that they can feasibly join themselves. This also incentivises employees for internal job promotion, be it horizontal or vertical. In short, it’s a win-win situation for both the employees and the company.

Career sponsor

Career sponsorship is an essential, and only recently recognized ingredient in the success of a leadership skills development programme. A sponsor takes a vested interest in the leadership skills development of an employee and supports them in their development. Leadership skills development programmes must be designed in a manner where employees work closely with their sponsors to create individual development plans that will help them build networks and pursue assignments, and where they can gain the experience and leadership skills they need to succeed.

Ability to accept failures

Learning how to recognize successes and failures is one of the essential leadership skills that needs to be nurtured in potential leaders. Even the most powerful, inspiring leaders make mistakes. Hence, the leadership skills development process must consider including a step where the potential leaders learn to recognize an error, admit it openly and take action to correct it. Being open about failures, discussing them and learning from them sends a powerful message.

Increasingly, companies are placing a high priority on leadership skills training. Such companies need to give their employees a head start on developing leadership skills, and give them opportunities to upgrade the leadership skills they already have. This modern leadership skills development process will give those adopting it a considerable advantage over their competition.

The aim of the leadership skills development process should be to maximize employees’ potential so they can get the most out of those that they lead. How is your company approaching leadership development programmes?

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