Leadership Development, a Contradiction in Terms?

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Leadership Development, a Contradiction in Terms?

One of the biggest misconceptions about leadership in my experience is that once you’ve made it into a responsible position you’re supposed to know it all – not only the technical requirements of the role but also the skills to lead a team of people and to know how to get the best possible performance out of them, on a consistent basis. The assumption that you’re the font of all knowledge comes with the territory and you’re left on your own to sink or swim.  It seems that we make it as difficult as possible for our leaders and managers to thrive.

When I decided to move from General Management into Human Resources back in the late 90’s I undertook a Masters degree in Human Resources Management. For my dissertation I decided to research different approaches to Leadership and Management Development between Eastern and Western cultures and specifically between Japanese and British businesses. I had a lot of hands on experience of general management roles under my belt and it had struck me how the amount of training and investment I received as an employee became less and less frequent as I rose through the ranks. I wanted to understand if mine was an isolated experience or a common theme amongst UK businesses.

What I found was a stark contrast between the 2 approaches. Research showed that with each promotion Japanese managers were rewarded with additional investment in their leadership training. As they took on more senior positions with increased responsibility it was recognised that their value to the organisation had also increased and they were considered even more deserving of an investment in their success.

That approach makes good business sense and so why do we tend to isolate our managers making it so hard for them to thrive? We all know that the people we employ can make or break an organisation and those in positions of responsibility even more so because they set the benchmark for everyone else to follow.

You may be wondering where I’m going with this – all very interesting but how is this relevant to me and my business? Well let me ask you this: When did you last take a short cut or make a unilateral business decision that came back to bite you? We’ve all questioned our actions at some point in our career because we all make mistakes. Now consider how those situations might have panned out differently had you sought input from an expert outside of your situation who could have given you an objective view.

If your business objective was to enter new markets you would not think twice about seeking expert advice in that field. In following that advice you would inevitably rely on your people to implement the strategy because it just wouldn’t be possible to achieve the objective single-handedly. And this is where the value of developing your leadership skill set comes into its own because ultimately the business will stand or fall based on the ability of its leadership team to elicit the required performance from your people.

At some point in your career, if not already you will find yourself in a position with responsibility for business improvement through other people. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking the decision to develop your leadership capability, so what are you waiting for?

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