For increased performance, make sure that leadership is everybody’s business in your organization.

By Leslie Tedgui

Describing leadership is not an easy task, and definitions can vary depending on who we ask. Is leadership a quality, an attribute, an attitude, a job title? A lot of the trouble we face in finding the best definition for leadership comes from an important confusion we tend to make. It’s essential to distinguish between holding a leadership position and demonstrating leadership skills.

Organizations assign leadership positions to selected individuals: this means that they receive a mandate from the company to lead others, and are recognized as such. Only a small percentage of employees can hold a leadership position, and they are usually the top executives of their organization.

However, any employee can demonstrate leadership skills, regardless of seniority, job title, place in the hierarchy or even management experience.

To understand this divide, we need to start looking at leadership as a daily practice, not a job title. In the words of Chris Worley, it’s essential to think of leadership “as an organization capability, rather than as an individual trait or position in the hierarchy”. Making this fundamental distinction can bring a lot of clarity to organizations aiming to develop and train their leaders.

“Learning professionals have to look for insight everywhere to stay relevant and to make sure that the training they provide aligns with the bottom line.“

It is both essential and beneficial to have as many employees as possible demonstrate leadership skills; it is a key driver for increased performance. Employees with leadership skills will be more engaged in their work, and will actively contribute to the organization’s bottom line. They will demonstrate more vision, more adaptability and increased innovation capabilities. They will also be more determined to complete their tasks and more considerate of others.

Overall, employees with strong leadership capabilities are better performers, and organizations must strive to foster and develop this trait in as many employees as possible, from the bottom up and across every department. Additionally, they must keep on developing the ones that currently hold leadership positions, to make sure they continue to grow their skill set and that they keep making meaningful contributions to the organization.

Leadership development has to be a shared responsibility between L&D and the rest of the organization
Organizations have everything to gain from having employees with strong leadership skills; there are countless studies, both empirical and statistical, that show the correlation between successful organizations and powerful leadership. The mission to develop more and more employees to become and stay great leaders will never be over – and this is why L&D departments have such a crucial role to play. They have to bring their expertise to make sure that leadership development remains a priority and that leadership training is accessible for everyone in the organization.

However, they can’t do it alone. In order to stay relevant, L&D teams need to engage with all departments across the organization, including business leaders and learners. Our business environment and the way people learn are both changing at an unprecedented pace. To stay relevant and to make sure that the training they provide aligns with the bottom line, learning professionals have to look for insight everywhere. Managers are a key piece of the puzzle: they can have a specific understanding of when and how their teams want to learn, which can prove valuable to L&D specialists designing learning programs. Most importantly, they face business challenges every day, and can provide a unique perspective on the skills that their teams most need to develop.

There is still a lot of work to do to achieve this ideal of collaboration: L&D professionals are much more likely than their business counterparts to see the value in leadership development programs and to view them as a strategic priority for the organization (Harvard Business Review, 2016).

So how can we solve this perception gap? A crucial step for L&D professionals is to showcase the strategic value of their programs and their contribution to organizational results. To achieve this, the L&D function must strive to measure effectively the impact of learning on the bottom line, and communicate these results regularly, across the whole organization. Only then will they increase their credibility and get the buy-in of their business counterparts.

These efforts will pay off: by co-constructing learning programs, organizations will be able to develop their leaders’ skills at the right moment and in ways that modern learners will relate to.

This virtuous circle will enable every employee to think about the leadership practices they can adopt, and convince them that they don’t need a specific job title to lead.

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