Written by: Kenny Bhosale, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
As savvy business leaders, we need to change how we view leadership ‒ by thinking of it less as an ‘add-on’ and more as an essential business capability that helps us achieve our strategy and goals. This can have a much more significant impact on our business and people; and a better return on the time and money we spend on leadership development.
Leadership development is a multi-billion-dollar industry and continues to grow. Yet, leaders and businesses are left wanting and wondering what they are investing in and what they are getting out of it. As savvy business leaders, we need to change how we view leadership today. You need to get away from the emotional sell and instead start thinking of leadership as an essential business capability that helps you achieve your business strategy and goals – whether that is to increase outputs, improve employee experience, enable growth or create a competitive advantage.
Leadership as a business capability.
Before we delve into it, we first need to understand the term ‘business capability’, which often has conflicting definitions and can be misunderstood. Your business capabilities are your core functions (what you need to do) to deliver your business outcomes. These could include capabilities like IT, HR, talent acquisition, sales, marketing, manufacturing, product design, etc. Your business capabilities also differentiate you from your competitors, no matter what size of business you are. Sometimes, a larger or more mature company may incorporate leadership development in their HR or people capability, so leadership gets some attention. Although, in my experience, leadership often becomes the poor cousin to other HR and people capability initiatives. More commonly, leadership development is regarded as an ‘add-on’ or something you do on top of your ‘core business’. Inevitably, leadership development drops off the radar when it gets tough, and people get busier. Such thinking results in expensive leadership solutions that are never embedded into business and eventually fail or fade out as people return to their old habits.
For example, leaders will often go on leadership courses, workshops or retreats where they walk away inspired and armed with a strong desire to create a particular leadership culture. Yet, they find themselves frustrated when they return to the real-world complexities of their work and struggle to implement any of those changes. When the motivation fades, they return to the status quo.
We need to do better. We need to change how we look at and develop leadership in our businesses. We need to start thinking of leadership as a business capability that helps us achieve our strategy and goals. Here are four things for you to consider to change how you approach leadership development in your business.
First, know your needs.
You wouldn’t invest in a project or design solution without knowing the ‘needs’, correct? Yet, most businesses do exactly that. The leadership marketplace is full of theories, philosophies, models, trends and outright fads with no evidential grounding. Not all those solutions will add the same value to you and your business. The right leadership solutions help you increase outputs, create the right culture, help recruitment and retention, improve employee experience, enable growth and create a competitive advantage. Hence, effective leadership development starts with first understanding what you need to do in the leadership space to deliver your business strategy. For example, in my consultancy, the first step is evaluating the client’s needs. This conversation starts at the macro level by understanding the strategy and vision and then delving deeper into the pain points that need leadership solutions. The outcome is always a tailored action plan to help those clients and their businesses achieve their goals. Quite often, this evaluation involves some variation of an ‘honest conversation’ with the leader/s to distinguish what they ‘want’ from what they ‘need.’
Know your outcomes.
Once you know the areas to focus on, you need to understand that your leadership development initiatives need to add value to the outcome of the business, period. If leadership doesn’t yield tangible or intangible outcomes that can be measured, then it simply becomes a vanity exercise that eventually loses steam, gets down prioritised or is phased out when the leader/s championing it moves on. Whilst good people skills and leadership are founded on sound values and virtues, these alone cannot be the reason why businesses invest in and undertake leadership development. For example – let’s say your leadership development initiatives are linked with improving your employee experience. You still need to be able to define and articulate how leadership development will impact your employee experience and how that, in turn, aligns with your strategic outcomes.
Focus on leadership, not just leaders.
You need to shift focus away from ‘leader’ development and more towards ‘leadership’ development. Leadership occurs at all levels of the business, from the executives to the managers, team leaders and right down to the employees who have no direct report. In other words, you can’t develop good leaders if you are unwilling to develop good followers and team players. Spending far too much time focusing on the leader creates a risk of unrealistic self-expectations (from leaders themselves as well as from others). This places undue pressure on individual leaders to drive, influence and change the culture and ‘save the day’ like some cape-wearing heroes of the business world. Leaders struggle under unrealistic pressure and burnout. Taking a holistic approach and developing leadership in conjunction with good followership and teamwork across the business yields much better outcomes.
Embed leadership in your business.
This is probably the most unsexy and ignored part of developing leadership as a business capability. If you want leadership to be part and parcel of your business and culture, then it needs to be embedded into every part of the business that involves people and all systems and processes that affect your people. In most businesses, this includes every department and function within the business. Furthermore, you also need to support and incentivise leadership behaviours you want to see from your people. For example, a recent client of mine did this well, by creating a leadership-focused section in the annual performance reviews for all their managers, dedicated monthly awards for good leadership, introducing a survey system to capture feedback and measure employee engagement to hold leaders accountable, and formally creating time and space for leaders to spend more time coaching their direct reports. One of the most common downfalls for leaders is not having the time or simply being too busy to lead, influence, sit down and have conversations. What this looks like is unique to every business, but the concept is simple – you get what you measure and reward. Embedding leadership across your business makes it part and parcel of what you do and who you are. This drives culture and makes it stick.
Leadership development can be a significant time and financial investment for most businesses. Just like any other business decision, you need to take a business lens to leadership. You need to think of leadership as an essential business capability that helps you achieve your business strategy and goals. As I like to say - “Leadership is not the icing on the cake; it is a core ingredient of what makes you successful” (Kenny Bhosale). By taking this approach and embedding leadership across your business, not only will you get a better return on investment of time and money, but you will also build a leadership culture that attracts and retains the best people. Soon enough, you will create a competitive advantage that is hard, if not impossible, for competitors to replicate.
Kenny Bhosale, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Kenny is a leadership strategist, who understands how good leadership, management, and business systems work together with the right culture to help leaders achieve success. He is a certified Executive Coach whose knowledge and experience are grounded in a Master of Science specialising in Change Leadership and an Executive MBA specialising in Organisational Leadership Development. Kenny has helped hundreds of Executives lead change and thrive in the real-world complexities and ambiguities of today’s business environment. His mission is to make a difference, one leader and one business at a time, so they can make a difference to the life and career of their people, as well as the communities they influence.