I'm pleased to introduce this guest post by Emma Donaldson-Feilder, a registered occupational psychologist focused on workplace well-being, employee engagement, leadership and management. In this post Emma shares how effective leadership supports both individual and organizational performance.
Creating effective leadership in organizations is by no means a new topic, but it is one of increasing importance. More and more research points to leaders' vital role in organizational performance, health and effectiveness.
The media is also highlighting the disastrous impact of failures in leadership in fields such as banking.
This focus on the importance of effective leadership provides an opportunity for HR to really make a difference in their organizations. If HR can nurture good leadership, they can become instrumental in securing the future of a functioning workforce.
In our review of leadership and its implications for HR for the CIPD , my colleague Rachel Lewis and I identified four elements to the role that HR needs to play in creating effective leadership in their organization:
- defining what good leadership means
- developing leaders' skills
- creating systems, processes and policies that support good leadership
- creating the conditions in which the value of leadership is recognized
1. Defining what good leadership means
One of the problems with leadership is that there are so many different definitions of the term and different ways of looking at it. Every individual in your organization is likely to hold their own, generally implicit, model of leadership.
But HR professionals are in the ideal position to create an explicit explanation of what leadership means in their particular organizational context.
This can take the form of a set of behavioral indicators and descriptors that set clear expectations and provide a common language about leadership for both leaders and followers. It can also clarify that leadership is distributed across the entire organization and not purely the responsibility of a small group of executives.
2. Developing leaders' skills
Another problem with leadership is that people are often promoted into leadership positions without being given the support and development they need in order to fulfill their responsibilities as leaders.
To address this leadership skills deficit, HR professionals need to first understand current levels of capability in their organization. Then they need to create leadership development programs that build the skills of both those already in leadership roles and those who are the leaders of the future.
In order to bring about sustained changes in leadership capability, development programs need to take a long-term approach that not only builds skills, but also develops individuals' identity as leaders. Thus, coaching, mentoring and support over an extended period of time may be more effective than short training programs.
3. Creating systems, processes and policies that support good leadership
Learning and development is just one of the systems that HR professionals can use to support good leadership in their organization. Processes such as recruitment, promotion and appraisal are also ways of embedding positive leadership.
Recruitment and promotion systems can ensure that only those who have leadership capability, or the potential to develop such capability, are put into positions that involve leading others. Those who are technically excellent, but will never have the people skills to be good leaders, may need to be given technical promotion routes to recognize their contribution without compromising the quality of the organization's people leadership.
Appraisal and performance management can support both the messages about what is expected of the organization's leaders and the measurement and development of leadership capability. Other policies and processes such as organizational development, culture and values exercises, job design, team-working and employee engagement can all be used to underpin and emphasize good people leadership.
4. Creating the conditions in which the value of leadership is recognized
To achieve effective leadership and investment in leadership development, it is vital to have buy-in from all levels of the organization and particularly from the very top.
HR professionals can generate this buy-in by:
- championing leadership,
- articulating the business case,
- influencing the agenda, and
- showing how important effective leadership management is for dealing with the complex, dynamic world in which all organizations are now operating.
They may need to challenge those at the top and at all levels of management to role-model good leadership, authenticity and values.
Make leadership coherent across the organization
These four areas intertwine and support one another. If HR professionals can do all four things, they will allow leadership to be considered in a coherent way across the organization. This approach benefits not only leaders but also employees, the organization and, ultimately, HR itself.
For more on effective leadership practices read: How to recognize and recover from the three deadly signs of organizational misalignment.