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Why It’s Critical to Rethink & Reprioritize Leadership Development

According to new research by The Josh Bersin Company, leadership development has been ignored by companies in recent years—and it’s hurting their performance. The study, which spanned over two years, included interviews with more than 50 Chief Human Resource Officers and other business leaders, as well as a survey of over 1,000 leading companies.

The data suggests that the pandemic, coupled with inflation, pressure for hybrid work, and a highly competitive labor market, has led organizations to over-focus on business issues while neglecting to develop their leaders. Many organizations focused on their front-line employees during the pandemic but ignored the needs of their leadership teams and leadership pipeline. 

🚨 The result? Leadership teams are in crisis. 

Stressed Leaders

The researchers found that most companies are deeply worried about burnout and performance problems among their leadership, regardless of their level. Additionally, fewer than 1 in 4 organizations are satisfied with their leadership teams, and they do not consider their leadership development programs to be up-to-date and relevant.

When analyzing HR investment areas and their impact on business growth, it has been found that leadership development holds the highest correlation with successful business outcomes. This confirms what we have always known—leadership is everyone’s responsibility. For years, we have been leveraging our definition of leadership:

“Leadership is maximizing our positive impact on the world by becoming our best, fully authentic self and supporting those around us to break past barriers and step into their greatness.”

In any environment, leadership is not limited to a title or a role. This holds in today’s disruptive times, where it is essential to enable everyone to exhibit leadership qualities. For those holding formal leadership positions, the responsibility and influence they wield over the culture and employee experience make it even more important to provide them with adequate support.

🚨 Companies that focus on developing leaders outperform their peers!

Rethinking Your Priorities

As the end of the year approaches, it’s natural to start planning and setting goals for the next year. To help you in this process, consider the following:

💭 What were your successes in 2023, and how can you build on them for next year?

💭 How well did your organization handle challenges in 2023?

💭 Were there any areas that felt consistently stuck or stagnant?

💭 Did you notice any processes that were not as effective as they could be?

💭 Are your leaders prepared to navigate themselves and others through disruption and change?

A recent Gartner survey asked more than 500 HR leaders across 40 countries and all major industries to identify their priorities and challenges for 2024. Their findings align with the Josh Bersin Company’s research and found the following:

🚨 The top priority for 2024 is leader and manager development.

Leader Burned Out

Leadership Needs Help!

When looking at formal people leaders today, there’s a clear need for support. As an employee moves into a leadership role, there’s usually a significant jump in responsibilities. Compared to an individual contributor, most formal leaders have excess duties, tasks, responsibilities, and greater complexity in what they do.

According to Gartner, 75% of HR leaders report that managers are overwhelmed by the increase in their responsibilities. And 73% report that they are not well-equipped to lead change.

Yet the rate of change in our world will not slow down anytime soon. So, there is a significant gap between what we’re asking formal leaders to do and their current skills and capacity. To be future-ready, organizations need to focus more time, energy, and resources on developing leaders at all levels. Doing so will more effectively hone skills and develop their formal and informal leaders, equipping everyone to thrive in a disruptive environment.

At the same time, there is a broader need emerging. Skills are just one small part of what makes a leader effective. Skills can’t help with:

👉 Reducing job load – an average people leader has 51% more responsibility than they can handle effectively.

👉 Improving motivation – 1 in 5 people leaders would prefer NOT to be a leader if given the choice.

👉 Enhancing long-term behavioral changes – only 1 in 2 employees say their leaders treat them with empathy and fairness.

👉 Changing processes around the job – 59% of people leaders report spending a significant amount of time on “work to do work.”

The reality is that formal people leaders are cracking under pressure. With everything else that doesn’t work in business, and life for that matter, we need to evolve and introduce change to see even greater success.

What can organizations do to develop leaders, ensure relevant leadership development programs, and support formal leaders in navigating disruption and change?

  1. Reset leadership expectations. When a leader steps into a role where they need to accomplish tasks 1-4, lead a team, and fill out daily reports – they can’t put their energy into learning and performing their new role well. Instead, empower leaders to connect their employees with others for development and mentorship. That way, they can focus on the role and tasks they were assigned to execute – and have time and energy left to invest in their ongoing growth and development. Gartner found that leaders are 1.4x more likely to report their jobs manageable when the organization resets their role expectations.

    💡One way to do this is to make sure there are clear Guiding Principles of Leadership (i.e., non-negotiables for all leaders that guide how they lead themselves and others) and identify critical leadership practices for each leadership level. Then, align your development to support leaders in embodying and leveraging these principles to take out the guesswork and create a consistent experience for all leaders. Finally, make sure you develop wrap-around systems to reinforce the leadership expectations.

  2. Rebuild the leader pipeline. While employees often daydream about stepping into a formal leadership role, remember to prevent unrealistic expectations. Encourage potential leaders to engage in self-discovery to determine if leadership aligns with their aspirations. Expose them to the challenges inherent in the role, and allow them to experience the demands. Make it clear that it’s okay to opt out if the fit isn’t right. Normalizing the choice to step away from formal leadership when it’s not a good match is key. According to Gartner, allowing individuals to self-discover their suitability for the role increases the likelihood they will find the job manageable by 2.3 times.

    💡Ensure formal leaders understand potential future leadership roles and meaningfully support their development in preparation for promotion. We support leadership development for our clients with an in-depth Talent Review process to understand their current leadership bench strength, which guides both succession planning and tailored development for growing their formal leaders; it makes a huge difference in setting people – and the organization – up for success!

  3. Rewire leader habits. We all know habits are difficult to break. Yet, McKinsey & Company has reported that being effective today and in the future requires doing the messy work to shift our thinking and move past self-limiting habits. By equipping formal people leaders with the skills to effectively lead others, build and maintain healthy boundaries and sustainable routines, and create a deliberate practice of focused reflection—you will increase the likelihood of having great leaders. Gartner reports that organizations that focus on habit-building improve job manageability by 71%.

    💡Rewiring leader habits requires tending to the messy middle of change by taking an inside-out approach to developing leaders; there isn’t a shortcut. We can no longer afford to sidestep supporting people in shifting their thinking and doing the work necessary to adapt, flex, and thrive in a disruptive world.

  4. Expand development efforts to equip EVERYONE to show up as a leader. Move beyond required compliance training and minimal skills-based training and focus on developing people so they can close the gap between what the world demands from us and their innate human DNA.

    💡When people have an opportunity to become a better version of themselves, it can boost their well-being and help the organization. We have found that including something like our Developing a Leadership Mindset Program has significant positive results in improving individual leadership skills and well-being while also improving team psychological safety and effectiveness.

Reinvest in HUMAN Leaders

It is a common theme in every newly published research study that organizations face a gap between their leaders, employees, and organizational objectives. When budgets are tight, leadership development is often the first area that gets neglected, despite being crucial for long-term success. However, data consistently demonstrates the need for investing in leadership development for better outcomes in the long run.

Our client, Harcros Chemicals, has been investing in its leaders and culture for years and they are reaping the rewards. Their CEO, Mark Hamilton, received the 2023 PeopleForward Impact Award for leadership excellence. 🎧 Listen to Mark reflect on how this approach has transformed Harcros.

At Salveo Partners, we believe in using evidence-based and proven practices to develop people at all levels, helping them become more resilient and ready for the future. We support our clients in building organizational health and rethinking systems and processes to create intentional practices that enable people to contribute their best to the company’s purpose and goals. We have seen many of our clients benefit from investing in the deliberate work on their culture and developing their leaders, especially during tough times when the investment pays off in helping them navigate through challenges more effectively.

If you are interested in improving the culture in your company or investing in the development of your leaders in a meaningful way, we would love to connect. Contact us today.

🚨 Want to learn more?

We cordially invite you to attend our two-day Courageous Leadership Program, where we incorporate many of the key tools we use in our consulting and development work. Join us and take advantage of this opportunity to become the leader you were meant to be and wish you had.

Stay HUMAN. Stay connected. Stay safe. Show Up as a Leader.

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