What is leadership development and how can it be leveraged?

Leadership is a word often misused and misunderstood. Many of us sort of know what it means, and we may know it when we see it, but there is an element if intangibility about leadership and what it is that makes people great at it, or not. So logically, leadership development is about developing leaders to be ‘better’ right?  To be better at leadership.

Jim Thomas, leadership development

Some say that “leaders are born not made”, and there is much psychological and neurological evidence to support this.

On the other hand, Vince Lombardi said the opposite, “leaders are made not born”, and this was a reference to the fact that he believed anyone can achieve most things if they work hard enough.

So your view of nature vs nurture may well affect how you feel about the rest of this article.

Are leaders made or born?

Our take on it is a bit of both.  Like anything, natural talent, disposition and whether you are prone to particular behaviour plays a part in many walks of life.

For instance, I know that I could have spent every waking moment of my life for many years practising to be a world-class footballer, and I would never have become the next Lionel Messi.

That said, if I had practised more, or practised in a better way, I would have been able to be much better than the double left-footed player that I am today!

People can improve what they do, and how they do it.  Behaviour is a big part of what leadership is all about, and what leaders are ‘seen to be doing’ many would say is as important as what they actually do.

What drives leadership behaviour? 

The short answer is; many things drive it. DNA, upbringing and one’s attitude and mindset and how the person sees the world are all key examples.

Often we spend time with our clients working on their mindset and attitude and helping them to acknowledge the big impact this has on their behaviour.  Once people acknowledge what they are doing or not doing as their default setting, they can change it.

What is leadership development and how can you harness it?

Amongst the many quotes that we use at PDW, we also say that the words ‘leadership’ and ‘training’ do not sit well together.  It may well be stemming from the ‘leaders are born not made’ statement but ‘training’ is a largely one-way activity.  Training is about imparting knowledge and doing something TO the person, or this is often how it feels to the delegate.

We believe wholeheartedly that leaders and leadership can be developed and we base this on many years of evidence.  Yes, if you start with a person who is a natural born leader, then they can be developed to be even better, more quickly, more broadly than say someone who is not, but generally, most people can be ‘developed’ to be a competent leader.

But what do leaders do?

In the modern business environment, leaders lead, right?  What does that mean?  Well, this depends on a number of factors. One of the key things which is required of them is to ask what is it they need to lead?

It could be about day to day enablement of the people around them, removing blockages and maximising individuals to be their very best through demonstration of the right behaviours.

It could be that you have a leadership team unit that leads the business and this group needs to work more cohesively together, which is partly about the behaviour of the individuals but partly about alignment and behavioural contracts within the group.

Or it could be a person or group of people leading a project or working ON the business, strategically, to be fitter for the future.

Either way, the individuals involved can be ‘developed’ effectively with the right solutions.

What do leaders need to be ‘developed’?

People in leadership positions must first appreciate the ‘power and influencing footprint of their position’.  Too many leaders just don’t get that. They just don’t get that people look to them, copy them, hang on their every word at times, and one ‘radar off moment’ can have significant and unintended consequences.

Leaders need to be clear on what leaders do from a functional perspective.  So let’s picture a board of directors in a £20 turnover SME.  Good leaders will ensure they are all aligned in terms of their aspirations for the business and their expectations from each other and everyone else.

They will ensure direction is clear on a whole host of things to their people. From the long-term vision, to this year’s revenue targets, to key changes taking place.  And they will ensure proper measurement is in place to allow success levels to be properly assessed.

They will ensure the business is sufficiently well resourced to achieve what they are trying to achieve.

How can we help with Leadership Development?

Leadership behaviour though is where leadership development is probably the most effective.  At PDW Group we have had some eye-watering, lump in the throat experiences over the years of when delegates experience moments that they describe as life changing, game-changing and revelationary to them.

These are often driven by the realisation that their perception of themselves is radically different to how other people see them.  It is often about how their behaviour impacts on others, and how what they do could be so easily different if they had just better understood the other person(s) involved.

The impact on the people can be equally dramatic, ensuring people engagement ‘skyrockets’, and productivity, loyalty and advocacy all increase along with it.

And the financial impact on the business?  Lower costs, higher revenues. The magic formula! From just changing how leaders lead, developing your leaders this can become a reality.

These are the areas where leadership development really gets going.  It isn’t training because it’s almost a voyage of self-discovery. It takes leaders to have the bravery to step into the arena, to look in the mirror, to show humility, and to be action orientated to make the changes needed, both individually and collectively.

If you’re still not sure of the answer to the question “What is leadership development?”, then let us know because we have the finest most effective leadership development you will find anywhere…