Developing Leaders: Are Organizations Striking The Right Balance?

developing leaders in an organization meeting

In just about any organization, great leadership makes all the difference. That’s why developing leaders while emphasizing leadership and management development is crucial for companies at just about any stage. It’s also why we’re covering it in today’s article.

In this article, we’ll talk you through some common definitions and tactics your organization can employ, and we’ll also hear from Personio’s own Leadership Development Manager, Christian Westin, about why many organizations simply don’t strike the right balance.

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What is Leadership Development?

Leadership development consists of the processes, opportunities, and framework that help leaders grow within the context of an organization. Simply put, it’s about ensuring that your company’s leaders have the ability to succeed as exactly that: leaders.

Why Does Developing Leaders Matter?

Developing leaders in your organization matters because if your leaders are veering off course, there is a distinct likelihood that they can take their team, or the entire organization, along the ride with them.

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Christian Westin is the Leadership Development Manager at Personio

Let’s turn to Christian Westin to gain a bit of his insight on this matter: “My view, and the view of Personio, is that our leaders are magnifiers. Anything they do has an outsized impact on the entire organization. So, it is particularly important to be mindful of how you are developing leaders and to ensure that you are doing it right.”

And, in the context of an organization growing rapidly or competing on multiple fronts, this may put leaders under an even greater amount of pressure to perform. So, developing them is the same as nurturing them — ensuring both they and the organization can succeed.

Is There a Difference Between Developing Leaders and Developing Managers?

Leadership and management go hand in hand, so you shouldn’t treat them as two completely separate topics. Instead, you should think about how they influence one another, and how you can’t really have one without the other.

For this, let’s look into the work of Joseph C. Rost, author of “Leadership for the Twenty-First Century.” In his work on leadership, he states that transformational leadership is an influential relationship between “leader and follower.”

On the other hand, the relationship between “manager and subordinate” is characterized as more of an authority-based relationship. The latter is about coordination, the former about transformation. That said, they are not mutually exclusive.

Christian’s take adds more nuance to the discussion, suggesting that “The word ‘leadership’ is really trendy right now, but if you don’t have some of those core functions on a managerial level, then you are potentially missing out on maximizing that inspirational piece.”

So, the fact remains that, in order to be inspiring or transformational, a leader has to have the managerial qualities down pat. These are some of the key functional skills that are important, but they may not be regarded as traditional ‘leadership qualities.’

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Are There Different Types of Leaders?

There are many types of ‘hats’ that a leader might wear in an organization, these might include: 

  • Leader as coach
  • Leader as mentor
  • Leader as co-entrepreneur 
  • Leader as authority figure/manager

Each of these different roles necessitates a different pathway of development or a variety of skills that one leader may need to exercise (and would need to be well-versed in to excel in each, when the situation demands).

The Big Question: How Do You Develop Leaders?

One of the first, and most important parts, is understanding the current state of leadership in your organization. This is your baseline, your flashpoint, or your ‘moment of truth’ tells you where things stand and how you should regard them. 

But, Christian urges caution, “Organizations should seek to constantly ‘take a picture’ of leadership in their organization, because it isn’t enough to do it once and have that be the standard of leadership forever…they should constantly be measuring and understanding the fluid and evolving nature of leadership, at all times,” he explains.  

The next step would be to design and develop learning and development opportunities for leaders, to enhance skills and abilities within a workforce. The mix here is crucial, and can often be a stumbling block for many organizations (more on that one later, though). 

A more tailored mindset here is critical: You may want to consider different pathways for different leaders, trying to figure out and iterate on what offerings would appeal to leaders of different types (and offering journeys that account for them). 

Let’s quickly compartmentalize what we’ve covered so far — when it comes to developing leaders, here are three steps to start: 

  • Determine the current state of leadership 
  • Start designing learning and training plans 
  • In tandem with step two, design pathways for different leaders

What Is Essential To Developing Leaders?

When it comes to developing leaders, Christian details one of the most important things to note: “Companies have their own unique makeup, and leaders need to adapt and grow within that unique context,” he stresses. 

An essential element to leadership and management development is exactly that: avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach that tries to put your leadership efforts into a box. Leadership development will always matter, but it may matter in different ways. 

This is true of companies at different stages of growth, of different structures, or in different industries. What has worked and what will work, from a leadership perspective, is bound to change and the requirements will change, too. 

Adding in layers, adding in new leaders, adding in leaders of leaders or leaders of various domains, certain leaders may become more motivational rather than operational, which is why different leadership pathways become critical.

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How Do You Build A Leadership Development Plan?

Speaking of pathways, planning, and building a leadership and development framework, this is where Christian identifies that most companies get leadership development wrong. 

This is true even with the best intentions, and it comes down to balance: 70/20/10, this is the rule of thumb when it comes to leadership development planning: 

10%Formal TrainingClassroom-based, online courses, self study, credential-based work.
20%Learning From OthersCoaching, professional groups, mentorship, 360º feedback, career discussions, one-on-ones.
70%On-The-Job TrainingShadowing, action learning, moving into new projects across functions/departments, new assignments.

In Christian’s experience: “Most companies get the required ratios mixed up — spending 70% of their allotted time on formal training. Paying for someone to attend a seminar should not make up the bulk of your time developing leaders.” 

Ultimately, building a plan means focusing mainly on how leaders become better on the job, not in theory — of course, theoretical work, seminars, and even microlearning opportunities can augment what’s learned on the ground, but that really has to be the focus. 

For this to succeed, the key is tailored planning. “If you can ensure that each leader has their own development plan, then they can get very custom learning that is readily available,” Christian explains.  

It also helps move any formal training programs, those that make up the smallest portion of developing leaders, into real practices. Otherwise, they may be forgotten or become bound to a notebook and not employed.

How Do You Assess Leaders In An Organization?

Developing leaders also requires evaluating leaders. And, on an individual level, having clear KPIs against which performance is measured is key. But, that doesn’t have to be limited to business outcomes or KPIs in a traditional sense. 

What you may also want to focus on are what Christian calls “leadership-specific requirements.” Depending on the pathway that leader is on, what kind of expectations (actions, behaviors, skills, etc.) would be required of them at certain stages. 

Are leaders behaving in alignment with the behaviors you want to drive? Are there concrete examples of that in action? Have they acted counter to those behaviors? All of these questions can contextualize dollar-value results, too.

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What Should Be Your First Step When Developing Leaders?

If Christian was to develop an action plan, it would begin with an understanding of leadership within any given organization. He explains, “Try and understand the current state of leadership…broadly identifying where leaders are at and their needs.” 

The idea is to have a baseline snapshot of where things stand. Because your organization is unique, this is all the more important as you need to define what leadership truly looks like right now (and not necessarily what you want it to look like right now). 

Within that, you may also want to look at: 

  • Company culture 
  • Strategic direction
  • Business needs 

From there, Christian’s advice is to take a tailored approach: “ You should encourage both custom development plans, as well as something that might be uniform and grounding throughout the entire organization.” 

Developing leaders is both a one-on-one affair, but also understanding the dynamic between leaders. That is why a formal learning opportunity to help establish a common ‘vocabulary of leadership’ can be invaluable — so all your leaders ‘speak the same language.’

How Does Personio Approach Developing Leaders?

We’ll leave it to Christian to cap things off: 

“At Personio, because of the work that we do, we utilize a more agile, tech-inspired approach. That means building, measuring, learning, and constantly iterating is key for us. That ties into leadership development because you can’t roll everything out perfectly, all at once. Instead, you need to have the openness to try things and to see what works for some leaders and what doesn’t for others.”

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