Reflections on Leadership Development: What should we be focusing on?

Think of all the good or, better yet, great leaders you have come across in your life. What trait did they share that made them memorable? What behaviors did they all engage in that made them impactful? If you are struggling to come up with an answer, you are not alone.

Insights drawn from field research seeking to identify the capabilities that are common for all extraordinary leaders support the fact that there is no one right way to lead. Effective leaders possess diverse styles and constellations of competencies and, to complicate matters more, what makes them effective within one company may not work within another. So how can we decide what to focus on as we develop our leadership capabilities? Below are a couple of suggestions to consider as we decide on where to spend our efforts for the year ahead.

  • Target both areas of strength and areas of weakness.
    When putting our development plans together, we often demonstrate a bias for selecting areas of deficiency to work on. We rarely think of areas of strength as targets for “improvement.” Yet research indicates that areas of strength are key in how we evaluate leaders. Leaders who demonstrate strength in at least one specific area are perceived as more effective than leaders who have no distinguishing strengths (i.e., who are “good enough”). Any additional strengths continue to add to perceived ratings of effectiveness. However, there is one caveat – for these findings to hold true, a leader needs to not have any marked or sharp weaknesses. Focusing our development efforts on (1) becoming exceptionally strong in one or two practice areas, and (2) neutralizing (aka becoming “good enough”) in areas of clear weakness will most likely yield the most optimal results from a perceived leadership effectiveness perspective.
  • Focus on areas that align with business strategy.
    Effective leadership is not only diverse and complex, but it is also highly contextual. The areas we choose to focus our development efforts on will have great impact if they support the strategic imperatives of our organization. While we may have several top strengths to choose from, picking the top one or two that are best aligned with where the company wants to go to in the future is where we can yield the most effective results for our company overall. If our company is looking to transform the way we do business, leveling up our capability in championing change may be a great target to focus on. In comparison, if our company is looking to launch a highly innovative and complex product, upgrading our technical expertise will set us up for success in leading product development teams.
  • Seek to complement the other leaders within the organization.
    Since effective leadership comes in many different shapes and sizes, each leader within our company brings different strengths to the table – some overlapping and some complementing each other. When having to choose between two equally relevant areas for development, pick the one that complements (rather than replicates) other leaders’ strengths. We need to develop enough diversity in our leadership capabilities in order to maximize the collective impact of the team.

What do you plan to work on in 2023 as part of your leadership development priorities and how do your target areas compare to the guidelines above?

If you want to have a conversation on how to develop leaders within your company to achieve business results, reach out to connect with one of our expert staff.