Nearly 60% of Australian businesses taking part in an AHRI survey said their organisation provides leadership development resources to staff, and this accounts for 8% of the total learning and development activities.
Both leadership and management are intertwined – leaders have to manage, managers have to lead – and from supervisors and line managers, many employees have leadership roles, which can be defined as the ability to influence people to achieve a common goal by means of personal attributes and behaviours rather than skills. People respond to leaders they instinctively, almost intuitively, trust.
This focus on personal traits and behaviours suggests that, whether they are ‘born’ or can be ‘made’, some people will have more innate capacity as effective leaders. There is, however, evidence that leadership skills can be developed, if not taught from scratch; academic studies have shown effective behaviours are underpinned by potentially unconscious developmental processes, e.g. the more a leader thinks of themselves as such, the more they will act like one and develop associated skills.
Further research that good or bad experiences can affect leadership (good ones reinforcing leader identity, bad ones weakening it) also highlights the need for organisations to support leadership development. It goes without saying that honesty and integrity are key characteristics, and other key behaviours future leaders need include:
- fairness – treating everyone equally and on merit, keeping promises
- being positive – focusing on the right way of doing things rather than simply condemning the wrong way
- listening to opinions, making decisions – even if the decision is to do nothing
- appreciating that along with profit go social and corporate responsibilities (the triple bottom line)
- leading by example – working harder and being more determined than anyone else, not being seen to rant and rave, breaking down barriers, encouraging people to relax
- understanding the buck stops with them – taking responsibility for failings – and that the credit doesn’t rest with them, making sure plaudits are directed to their team and not themselves
Leadership theories have changed dramatically in recent years – there are advocates of differing theories on ‘relational’ (open, communicative), ‘values-based’ (ethical, authentic), and ‘contextual’ (constant change, no easy answers, collaborative) – but communication, approachability, flexibility and individual consideration are central to the leadership skill-set required today.
The tone and style of leadership will also influence, and in smaller businesses perhaps dictate, the culture and values of an organisation: simplistically, consensual or bullying leadership will tend to be mirrored at all levels.
Trust is another aspect of leadership and the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer found that Australian family-owned businesses appear to have a ‘trust premium’ over ‘big business’. It also reported a global ‘evaporation of trust’ in institutions and leaders. And when trust in leaders declines, citizens and customers start looking at, among others, frontline staff for trust signals. A clear call to action for HR.