During the East African Talent Agenda Series Conference that took place earlier this year, I asked many of our guests what HR challenges they were currently facing. There was a range of replies but unsurprisingly one of the topic’s that recurred most often was leadership development.
To help clarify this issue I have asked Rupert Adcock, the CEO of Global Career Company, a few questions surrounding the role of Leadership Development and its effect on employee’s and a business as a whole.
What is the role of Leadership Development within a business?
It’s a wider role than people sometimes think, because it isn’t just about creating future generations of managers. Think about the skills and tools a good leader has – those are valuable at all levels of an organisation. Communication of vision, values, helping others and decision making should be distributed and not just top down. Ultimately, businesses who have more people who exhibit leadership behaviours are better businesses. It’s not just about being in charge.
What role does Leadership Development play in Employee Engagement?
You could look at this in a number of ways. Leaders need to create the conditions for engagement to be right. This is where understanding what creates engagement is important, and being able to follow that up by steering the organisation towards that and ensuring it permeates all teams and departments. Ensuring that employees are tuned into the vision and purpose, ensuring that they have what they need to be successful in their roles, and ensuring that their well-being is looked after are critical aims of leadership at all levels.
Equally, being a leader is part of being engaged. This is true not only for those who aspire to seniority, but more importantly for all employees. If you don’t exhibit some leadership attributes, you won’t perform optimally, and if you don’t perform optimally, you can’t be engaged.
Finally, bringing it back to focus on an organisation’s leadership, the behaviour of leaders has a major impact on how engaged people are. If leaders fail to deliver personally on what employees are expecting, engagement can be eroded. This might be an Uber-type situation, where a leader behaves contrarily to the company’s values (or just decent human behaviour) and thereby erodes trust, or it might be that through a lack of communication or failure to deliver, lets people down in other ways. Leadership is fundamental to engagement, so by extension, leadership development is too.
What effect can Leadership development have on the employer brand?
It’s massive. A large part of employer brand is established by what people inside the organisation are saying. Employees are the barometer and they will talk about their experiences of their leaders, and of the development, training and coaching they are personally getting.
Equally, people say that leadership is a part of how they pick employers and leader visibility (and what they are seen doing) has a major impact here. We’ve seen companies like Safaricom in Kenya benefit greatly from the behaviour of leadership in their employer brand. In Careers in Africa Employer of Choice surveys, Safaricom often outperforms other regional brands, and the presence of CEO Bob Collymore, with his profile in the market, the CSR he sponsors and his habit of calling every member of staff to discuss how they are making the business better; these things are all well-known and play a part in building that brand. While it impacts the employer brand generally, there’s also a direct impact on attraction and retention – Careers in Africa Employer of Choice research shows that trust in senior leadership is consistently one of the more important drivers in employee attraction – not the most important, certainly, but not insignificant at all. Moreover, when we ask people what makes them want to leave an employer, leadership and management is the top factor every time. Leadership development couldn’t be more important to retaining staff.
Culture and engagement is an important and current HR challenge; how does Leadership Development help reduce cultural differences in the work place and raise connectivity and engagement?
We shouldn’t talk about reducing cultural differences. We should talk about making people feel like their differences are appreciated, and that they won’t be discriminated for or against on the back of them. And that goes for gender or anything else too. Leaders focus themselves and their teams on the mission and the values, by setting an example and a direction. Successful leaders are able to make these things the focus of organisations above and beyond differences, so everyone feels that they are pulling in the same direction and will share in the benefits. You can see as well, how this is key for leadership at all levels, not just the EX-CO.