Describing “leadership” is not an easy task, and definitions can vary depending on who is asked. Is leadership a quality, an attribute, an attitude, a job title? A lot of the trouble we face in finding the best definition arises from confusion. It’s essential to distinguish between holding a leadership position and demonstrating leadership skills. Making this fundamental distinction can help clarify what we truly mean by leadership.
Organizations assign leadership positions to selected individuals: this means that they receive a mandate from the company to lead others and are recognized as such. Only a small percentage of employees can hold a leadership position.
However, any employee can demonstrate leadership skills, regardless of seniority, job title, place in the hierarchy, or even management experience. To understand this, we need to start looking at leadership as a daily practice, not a job title. In the words of Chris Worley, it’s essential to think of leadership “as an organization capability, rather than as an individual trait or position in the hierarchy.”
For an organization, it is both essential and beneficial to have as many employees as possible demonstrate leadership skills; it is a key driver for increased performance. Employees with leadership skills will be more engaged in their work and will actively contribute to the organization’s bottom line. They will also demonstrate more vision, more adaptability and increased innovation capabilities. It’s obvious that organizations have everything to gain from having employees with strong leadership skills; this is why they must strive to foster and develop this capability in all employees, from the bottom up and across every department.
It’s also important to keep developing employees that currently hold leadership positions, to make sure they are growing and that they will keep bringing more value to the organization.
LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT HAS TO BE A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY BETWEEN L&D AND THE REST OF THE ORGANIZATION.
Countless studies, both empirical and statistical, show the correlation between successful organizations and powerful leadership. As we’ve seen, there is just as much opportunity in developing employees that currently hold a leadership position as there is in creating leadership capabilities in every employee. This mission will never be over — and this is why L&D departments play such a crucial role. They have to bring their expertise to make sure that leadership development remains a priority and that leadership training is accessible for everyone in the organization.
However, they can’t do it alone. In order to stay relevant, L&D teams need to engage with all departments across the organization, to make sure that the training they provide aligns with the bottom line.
Our business environment and the way people learn are both changing at an unprecedented pace. This heightens the need to increase communication between L&D departments and the rest of the organization, including business leaders and learners. L&D programs must aim at developing the right skills at the right time, in ways that modern learners will relate to. This can’t be done without ongoing discussions with representatives of relevant departments. This approach will also help the L&D function to demonstrate its contribution to organizational results, something that continues to be an issue in large corporations today.
These fresh, innovative learning strategies will be co-designed for leaders of today and tomorrow. This virtuous circle will enable all employees to think about the leadership practices they can adopt and convince them that they don’t need a specific job title to lead.