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How Can Leadership Skills Be Developed?

As a team of leadership and management development experts, we are often invited into organisations and partner with our clients to discuss how leadership skills can be developed.

There are a myriad of solutions when it comes to developing leadership skills. However, the risk that we see with some organisations is that they only see one solution – training.

It is important to note that we are not saying that training is not a helpful way to consider how leadership skills can be developed. We simply prefer to say, let us understand the needs before proposing a solution, such as one on one coaching.

In this blog, we take a look at how can leadership skills be developed and review a case study to support you.

Case study – How Leadership Skills Cannot Be Developed

Years ago, one of our leadership coaches was asked to put together a leadership development training course. After asking some deeper questions, it was clear that the issues lay in a variety of areas, including:

  • Culture

  • Values

  • Behaviours

The organisation was seeking a quick fix, and when the leadership facilitator explained that a quick fix would not solve the root cause issues and a systemic approach was needed, the organisation chose not to continue.

Instead, the organisation went to another provider and was successfully sold a training course to develop their leaders.

A couple of years later, the same facilitator from our team (also a leadership coach) was asked to coach one of the senior leaders to help him improve his Emotional Intelligence. Guess what? The same issues were prevalent in the organisation as a few years earlier; the culture did not support Emotional Intelligence as a leadership skill, so why would this leader want to focus on developing it?

Unfortunately, the challenge there was that the organisation did not want to see the blind side.

Understanding How Leadership Skills Can Be Developed

Great news, exceptional leadership development is possible when the right approach is employed.

With a background in facilitating the Learning and Development Practitioner Course for the CIPD, our Director, Zoe Lewis, is an advocate of working with the learning cycle framework below.

The learning cycle framework

A Story of How Leadership Skills Can Be Developed

There was once an organisation that required a Leadership Development Programme. They were at a pivotal time, as they had grown exponentially, yet they were struggling to retain talented individuals.

Sadly, their future leaders were being poached by competitors. As a result, the organisation in question faced a big risk of losing these talented future leaders, as many of their current senior leaders were nearing retirement.

On further investigation, it became evident that a hierarchical and directive style of leadership was causing some of the issues. People felt disempowered across the business, and they were constrained to doing things in the way in which they had always been done.

The senior leadership team was concerned that if they let go of the control, the business results would surely suffer. After all, that is how they had always achieved great results – this way had always worked!

A series of one on one coaching conversations unearthed some examples of blame and fear, and it was evident that the safety net of control was designed to reduce the blame and fear when things went wrong.

Many of the newly hired talented ‘future leaders’ felt constrained to do as they were told. They had new and innovative ideas for change, but were told that they were too risky and that they did not have the benefit of experience.

The Needs Analysis Phase

What did the needs analysis identify?

  • Hierarchical control and direction – no devolved leadership and empowerment.

  • A lack of a learning culture and fixed mindsets of many of the leadership team.

  • Future talent leaving for similar salaries but more control over their work and innovation opportunities.

  • A concern and care from the leadership team to get things ‘right’ to protect the business.

  • Senior leaders and leaders of the future in conflict over how to approach the business development.

The needs analysis looked at the objectives required from a solution:

  • A business that is fit for the future and has a talented pool of future leaders ready to grow the business as some of the senior leaders move into retirement.

  • To have a working environment and culture that is inclusive, empowering and embraces a learning culture.

Areas identified for development:

  • Culture: inclusivity, empowerment, learning and growth mindsets.

  • Leadership development: seeing things through each other’s eyes, team building and shared accountability.

The Design Phase

Focus groups:

Discussing with individuals and teams what were the challenges and gathering their ideas for how to move forwards, listening to their suggestions and, wherever possible, including them in the solutions was an important part of the engagement of all parties.

Taking their feedback, the programme design started to take shape, with each step checking that it was addressing the objectives and development needs of the individuals and the group as a whole.

Leadership coaching programme design example

The Delivery Phase

This multi-pronged approach in action:

  • Launchaddressing the question “Why we are here and what are we trying to achieve” – remember that the participants were engaged before this with input into the needs analysis and design stages.

  • Shadowing and reverse shadowing enabling the senior and future leaders to step into each other’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. Creating connection, empathy and understanding.

  • Storytelling in small groupshow they see the current situation and what it could be like in the future.

  • Connected purposelinking back to the stories and seeking the common themes around the purpose of the organisation and individual stories.

  • Connected objectivesbringing the connected purpose to life and setting collaborative objectives – achieved as a whole.

  • Playing with empowermenttaking real world activities and collaboratively designing how empowerment can be used to empower future leaders whilst enabling senior leaders to see their strength in helping grow the future leaders.

  • Watch me learn through mistakes - senior and future leaders openly sharing the vulnerability of having made mistakes and the value gained by learning from these.

The programme was also supported by:

  • Systemic Team Coaching enabling teams to learn and develop the skills to work together through challenges and become even stronger than they were before.

  • One on One coaching for all participants providing a safe, yet challenging environment for an individual to be completely honest about their experiences, beliefs and behaviours and identify ways to release their potential to support both theirs and the business objectives.

  • Mentoring and reverse mentoring is a great way to enable two parties to gain strength through one another. Each participant chooses a topic that their mentor knows well and they design how they will work together to mentor one another, rather than a typical one-way-only mentor-mentee relationship. This builds bridges and can be especially helpful to develop emotional intelligence, which develops stronger relationships.

The Evaluation Phase

We have assumed the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation, in which case we’d be gathering data in these areas:

Evaluating leadership skills
  1. Reaction measures how happy and engaged the participants are in each module

  2. Learning measures what has been learnt from the modules e.g. making mistakes and discussing them

  3. Behaviour measures what has been put into action from the modules and the supporting solutions e.g. colleague feedback, 360° questionnaires, etc.

  4. Results measure what difference has been made to the important metrics in the business e.g. culture audit, attrition of future leaders, etc.

So there we have an example of how leadership skills can be developed with one on one coaching.

How are your leaders doing right now? Are you asking yourself how your leadership skills can be developed?

Maybe now is the right time to give us a call for one of our free of charge consultations?

Alternatively, why not browse our talented team’s profiles or just take a look at our other resources.


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