The Ultimate Guide to Leadership Development


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How to Build Better Leaders

79% of CEOS expressed concern that a lack of essential skills in their workforce is threatening the future growth of their business¹

From remote working and changing organizational structures to a widely reported skills gap, organizations are struggling to adapt to the new world of work. In response, many will turn to leadership development to posit a positive vision and ensure their organization evolves.

But most organizations are also struggling to develop leaders that are up to the task.

Over 40% of executives believe their organization is not ready to meet its leadership requirements in the future.² The same percentage of managers express doubt about their abilities to manage a remote team successfully³, and less than half of all leaders are confident they can help employees develop the skills they need to thrive.⁴

Leadership development is therefore essential, and research demonstrates that it can be highly effective. Some studies show that participants undergoing leadership training improved their learning capacity by 25% and their performance by 20%.⁵ But many businesses are not seeing such results based on their current programs.

75% of organizations rate their leadership training as “not very effective”,⁶ and few have adapted their strategies to take into account either the changing nature of leadership or the technological possibilities now at their disposal.

In this eBook, we use cutting-edge research to explore the benefits and challenges of leadership development in 2021 – offering a vision for the future of leadership development that is both more cost-effective and more impactful.

The State of Leadership Development

  • Leadership and Management is the highest priority skill for Learning and Development (L&D) in 2021.⁷
  • The number one obstacle to development is a lack of time.⁸
  • 75% of organizations want development and training to be more personalised in the coming years.⁹

Three key ways Leadership Coaching Can Benefit Businesses

1. Increased self-awareness

The impact of leadership is felt across the entire team and organisation. But many leaders do not have a natural understanding of how their actions affect those around them. Experts argue that only 10-15% of leaders have true self-awareness,¹⁰ and this creates a culture where leaders are unable to correct their own errors or take control of their team’s performance.

Executive coaching and leadership development often focuses heavily on self-awareness. The coach may provide feedback the leader has never been directly confronted with, and many coaches will actually interview other employees or team members to see how the individual is perceived by their colleagues.

While this can be painful, it ultimately builds mental resilience and self-knowledge. By helping leaders – and trainees – to understand their own temperament, personality, reputation and abilities more clearly, the process ensures leaders are more conscious and deliberate.

Research shows that this is ultimately to the benefit of the entire organisation: in a review of 486 publicly traded companies, those whose leaders demonstrate high levels of self-awareness outperform other companies financially.¹¹

“We have to start with awareness. Leaders need to know who they are, how they impact others in the team, and what their particular strengths are.” – Katie da Gama, executive coach.

2. Better change management

The world of work is undergoing a seismic shift, and leaders play a key role in navigating this. But just 50% of employees feeling their team leader effectively creates a vision for the future of their team.¹² 72 per cent of leaders report that they don’t even know how changes they implement will affect employees.¹³ And according to PWC, less than 10% of leaders currently have the necessary skills and experience to lead a transformation successfully.¹⁴

Executive coaching and leadership development help leaders not just to expand their vision of the future – it helps them learn to communicate it more effectively. Leaders often do not realise that they are not properly communicating their ideas for the future or that their team doesn’t fully understand those ideas.

Leaders can inspire their teams to embrace change, and that is hugely powerful: when people are truly invested in change, it is 30% more likely to stick – according to research from McKinsey.¹⁵

Development and coaching help leaders understand how to do this and how their specific skill set can be leveraged to make it more impactful.

“Leadership is essential for the future: who will take responsibility for ensuring that organizations take into account the broader society and environment?” – Sue Gammons, executive coach.

3. Improved employee experience

92% of HR professionals have set employee experience as their top priority for 2021.¹⁶ And it is no secret that leaders exert a huge influence over their workers’ experience of the workplace.

As many as 57% of people claim to have quit a job because of their boss.¹⁷ And research from Gallup suggest that up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement is due to decisions made by the manager.¹⁸

By developing more empathetic and self-aware leaders, coaching can transform an organisation. Leaders learn how to properly recognise employees – and communicate that recognition to them – which leads to a dramatic increase in both engagement and retention.

There are also huge benefits to be seen from democratising development and bringing leadership development to employees across an entire organisation. It will help ensure employees feel they are on a real career trajectory – research from Udemy has found that less than half of all employees currently feel their employer provides enough learning and development resources.¹⁹ And LinkedIn’s survey found 94% of employees will stay with a company longer if it invests in their learning and development.²⁰

Ultimately, executive coaching and leadership development will produce a workforce that makes better decisions, is more self-directed, and happier with their work.

“Coaching can totally transform people’s attitudes. They don’t dread coming into work anymore. They help out more. They stay a little longer.” – Aries Yeo, business coach and NLP practitioner.

Five Reasons Businesses are Struggling to Develop Leaders

1. Leadership skills are changing

From managing remote teams to understanding changing business needs, what constitutes a good leader has changed dramatically in recent years. While there are obviously constants, many of the resources and assumptions businesses base their development programs on today are no longer fit for purpose.

What is needed is a responsive approach to development that ensures the most pressing challenges of the day can be properly confronted.

2. Development programs are not personalized

Many businesses invest in high-quality leadership development but don’t see lasting change in their employees’ behaviour. Traditional training programs cost organizations $50 billion annually²¹ yet produce little lasting behaviour change. And ultimately, just 12% of employees say they have been able to apply what they learned in training courses to their real-world job.²²

The reason for this is often the approach to development: it isn’t personalised and is therefore not directly relevant to the coachee’s day-to-day work environment. They are taught broad skills or generic concepts, which are difficult to apply to the high-speed world they actually operate in.

3. Demographics are shifting

Generational changes are well underway, which means younger employees have a very different set of assumptions and needs. From expectations about flexibility to attitudes towards hierarchy, there are huge differences in the ways the generations approach work – and, therefore, leadership.

While 74% of talent developers planning to make changes to their L&D program to accommodate Gen Z workers,²³ many are still struggling to find the most effective way of scaling development programs to address these generational divides.

4. Development programs are not scalable

Most organisations have trouble scaling their development programs: they simply do not have the time or money to enable their entire staff to undertake proper development. This means specific individuals will be singled out for executive coaching, and the rest will receive relatively generic resources.

‘Self-directed’ learning – wherein employees are provided with content and materials to help them develop themselves – generally achieves very low uptake²⁴ and fails to produce meaningful results. But coaching – the most personalised and impactful form of development – has historically been impossible to scale across an entire organisation.

5. Resistance to change

Leadership development is often rooted in transition and change. But as seasoned leadership coach Una McGoey explains, many people simply don’t want to change.

“Sometimes leaders don’t like change,” she explains. “They don’t know how to change, and they don’t want to change. So training has to show them that change will benefit them.” This further makes clear the vital importance of personalisation and the ability for businesses to provide a greater level of investment in development.

How can businesses Improve Leadership Development?

Measurement is Key

55% of development programs have no connection to performance incentives,²⁵ which means organizations have a harder time measuring the success of their training efforts. Not only does this make it harder to gauge the Return on Investment (ROI) of the program – it also reduces the effectiveness of the programme.

Measurement is an absolutely essential means of incentivising coachees to work harder and develop self-awareness – It helps them understand their own performance. It is also useful for organisations to be able to tether measurements to their strategic goals, ensuring their time and budget is used in the most impactful way possible.

The key is to use measures that are not restrictive or easily gamed; most organisations will have a relatively diverse group of people undergoing leadership development. That means there is always a danger that your measurement strategy actually turns everyone into the same kind of leader.

Instead, your metrics should make the goal of the development program clear and ensure performance is measurable – without overlooking the importance of individual differences in personality, temperament and natural skills.

Personal coaching should be the standard, not the exception

For leadership development, there is really no better approach than coaching. It enables the level of personalised, direct feedback most individuals need to really push themselves and ensure every coachee has proper support.

Because the coach is generally working one-to-one with a coachee, they are able to invest far more time and energy thinking about the specific challenges their coachee is facing than you could ever hope to get in a large group seminar or through a training video. As executive coach Lalita Raman says, “it’s not just the 60-minute session you’re paying for with a coach; it’s the training and expertise and planning.”

According to the Institute of Coaching, 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. Ultimately, 86% of companies that use coaching report that they recouped their investment.²⁶

Technology can enable coaching to scale

According to some analysts, the pandemic pushed digital adoption forward by seven years.²⁷

The average organisation has been forced to embrace technology throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has unlocked numerous new operational possibilities that should be seized with both hands.

Personalised coaching has been impossible to scale historically because of the logistical and financial challenges associated with getting employees in a room with the coach. But the vast majority of employees now have smartphones that enable them to connect with coaches seamlessly – and that is a real game-changer.

The sheer scheduling flexibility technology enables means leadership development can be made to fit around the workflow of individual workers. It is accessible from any location which has WIFI – which is increasingly widespread. And it enables instantaneous communication – ensuring the whole process of arranging and undertaking coaching is frictionless.

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