Activating leadership potential – beyond the training

By Ksenia Zheltoukhova, CIPD Research associate

Despite a significant investment in training managers in UK organisations, many managers tell us that the moment they step out of the classroom ‘life happens’, making it hard for them to apply the skills they have learned. It is not a surprise that the majority of organisations are interested in the latest secrets of unlocking the leadership potential of the managers they train.

Last week I took part in a People Management webinar on ‘How organisations can activate their managers’. Together with David Smith from Hay Group we debated the changing external landscape, requiring organisations to change what they mean by ‘leadership’.

The fast-moving pace of the modern world of work means that formal training alone is not enough to enable today’s managers to rise to the task of leading an engaged and agile workforce. Our latest research Leadership – easier said than done suggests that employers should look at the organisational environment on the whole, if they are to improve the ability of individuals to act as leaders, rather than focusing on their capability only.

Among the contextual barriers to leadership were, first and foremost, the overly-complicated lines of accountability and decision-making that instilled a fear of making a mistake if an employee decided to act on the rhetoric of empowerment.

In addition, focus on immediate quantifiable targets, as well as individually-focused reward and progression mechanisms acted against collaborative and cross-functional working, as employees pursued individual work objectives, without linking them into the organisation’s vision. On the other hand, line managers, who were chasing time-sensitive targets, preferred hands-on approaches instead of coaching and empowering their teams.

Finally, some of the managers and even HR practitioners found it difficult to negotiate the tension between the organisational policies and procedures, and the discretion they wanted and needed to apply when dealing with individual employees and specific situations in context. At times these policies can be overly prescriptive, therefore, restricting managers and employees from doing what’s right for the business.

You can hear us debate these barriers and some practical solutions in the PM webinar here.

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