David Plink
Changes: David Plink

Leadership development is in flux, as technology and the need for a more collaborative approach to work make their presence felt throughout an organisation, says David Plink, chief executive of the Netherlands-based Top Employers Institute.

“The past 10 years have seen drastic changes in the way leadership development is executed,” says Mr Plink, whose organisation conducts an annual survey of human resources best practice around the world.

“Leadership is no longer synonymous with management. Leadership has to deal with how to influence and drive performance.”

This might mean instilling leadership skills in a techie guy whose work nobody understands but who is crucial to a company’s success.

Leadership could be seen as coping with change, creating and communicating a vision and aligning people with the core business plan. Management might be seen as dealing with complexity and achieving results through organisation and staffing.

“In many companies, technology is driving change,” says Mr Plink. “If leadership skills on how to exert influence aren’t developed, it will be more difficult to bring plans to fruition.”

Initial results from the institute’s survey found that while companies reported a more collective approach towards leadership, greater responsibility for personal and career development was also being placed in the hands of employees.

There was a feeling that leadership had become too elitist, residing in a specific person or role. The best companies identify leaders by their influence and performance.

In the institute’s example of best practice, leadership was part of the employee value proposition (EVP), in other words it was:linked with the rewards and recognition employees received.

This gave the opportunity “to embed a commitment to great leadership at the start of the employee relationship” at a time when the EVP plays a vital role in attracting and retaining talent.

“We’re seeing more self-application to leadership programmes, which aren’t as elitist in the selection process,” says Mr Plink.

More individuals should be encouraged to take the initiative and apply for leadership programmes, rather than rely on human resources or managers, because individuals develop faster when they feel responsible for their own progress. But they need to understand the importance of honest self-assessment, which should rank equal in importance to team, peer, and senior management review.

“With individual ownership, we’re seeing more mindfulness training and emphasis on finding a work-life balance,” says Mr Plink.

“The availability of technology means people can be on call 24/7 and this has had a profound effect on the way people work. Knowing when to stop is an important part of leadership.”

Companies’ performance was “disappointing” when it came to measuring the success of leadership programmes. Subjective methods are still favoured by many businesses, resulting in a surprisingly low score for return on investment and a slowly improving one for business performance, the institute found, he said.

What is more, many programmes fail to produce the collective leadership needed as organisations become less hierarchical. That is in part because employees choose personalised user experiences from tools such as online coaching, e-learning, and social learning and enterprise networks.

“We do see good policies and support, but if companies don’t evaluate their return on investment and take a step back every year to look at them, they may not make the changes they need,” says Mr Plink.

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