Leadership development involves a wide range of practices acknowledged as essential for maximising the potential of an organisation’s human capital…
An article by Kraus and Wilson (2014) recently caught the eye of our Executive Researcher, because it examines the often intangible link between leadership development programs and organisational outcomes.
Fundamentally, the authors suggest that leadership programs should emphasise and reflect the multifaceted nature of leadership, looking for example at skills including; cognitive, social, strategic and commercial. This is an observation we wholeheartedly endorse based on our own experience in executive search and selection, because we are constantly reminded of the need for leaders to employ a variety of skills and influencing techniques at different levels of their organisation; adapting to the situational needs of the environment to deliver successful outcomes.
The authors go on to say that an effective leadership development strategy integrates the perspectives of the leader as an individual with the perspectives that come from being a member of a ‘dyadic’ relationship with subordinates and the organisation at large. This is an important concept to master because looking at leadership capability means looking at the broader context; for instance, the interpersonal relationships that exist and the bearing that they have on the leader’s impact and effectiveness.
Research shows that effective leadership development requires ‘deliberate practice’ and this can take many forms from fine tuning your conflict management skills to encouraging teamwork through exposure to new and challenging situations. Often this requires the leader to move outside of the comfort zone, seizing opportunities to lead in new, unfamiliar territories where knowledge and new skills can be gained. But there is also a multitude of more structured development options for leaders wanting to build their skills and improve their effectiveness.
Post-program assessment and follow-up is also key to realising a return on investment and more generally, to realising the full impact of leadership development. Post program assessment can mean implementing new challenges to promote growth, providing support through coaching and mentoring, or simply taking time to provide regular and constructive feedback. And once new leadership skills are gained, they must also be maintained through continuous development, solidifying recently learnt skills and knowledge and then building on that with yet more new skills and knowledge.
The article by Wilson and Kraus highlights that while studies have shown that the return on investment for organisations investing in leadership development is high , it can also take up to three years for the full impact of a leader to be realised within the organisation. Thus, while developing leaders today can be a wise investment in the short term, developing a leadership pipeline will be key to your organisation’s ongoing success.
 For example, a study by Burke, Stagl, Klein, Goodwin, Salas and Halpin (2006) found that successful organisations that were actively engaged in leadership development had an average investment of $500,000 and returns on that investment were found to be on average $1,000,000. Returns on investment in leadership development activities were measures by improved global competitiveness, profitability, sales and shareholder value.