Who is Responsible for Leadership Development?

If key players in any organization asked themselves who is responsible for leadership development, what might the answer be? Should the leaders themselves hold sole responsibility for their own development? What role should their employers and colleagues play? In some organizations, the burden is delegated to Human Resources. The truth is, all of these players hold some responsibility, each with their own important role in facilitating leadership in the organization, however, the majority of the responsibility rests with individuals to drive their development process.

The Role of the Leader

Leaders should first position leadership as a strategic priority and embed leadership as a strategic imperative for the organization. Executives must provide the time and resources needed to build leadership, including allocating necessary resources and people to support leadership development. Such resources must be protected in times of constraint, as they are critical to the success and health of the organization.

Executives in the organization must be leaders in every capacity, and this includes collectively and individually modeling the desired leadership requirements. Senior leadership is watched closely by all levels within the organization and if they are not modeling behavior appropriately, their subordinates may conclude that leadership is all talk and not really very important.

Executives need to become leaders who develop other leaders. They should be excellent coaches of direct reports and mentors to high-potential individuals. Following participation in development programs, executives should share their insights, lessons, and philosophies gained. In addition, talent reviews should be conducted at least once annually by executives who are continually looking for ways to stretch and expand the leadership capabilities of others while also taking accountability for retention strategies for high-potential individuals.

The Role of the Company

The role of the company in leadership development is awareness, as this understanding is critical to ensuring the continuity of leadership in the organization. This awareness must be broad in focus and not narrowly concerned only with succession. The organization’s leadership capacity is a source of competitive advantage, as strong leadership can be a key differentiator and leadership should be a vital component of every strategy conversation.

It is also the company’s responsibility to work with management to review the company’s strategy and articulate what’s required from leaders to execute this strategy. The Board is uniquely positioned to do this, as they typically bring significant depth and breadth of business knowledge and experience that will help management establish the requirements for future leadership for the organization.

Once a clear understanding of these requirements is established, the company must also discuss with management what risks are associated with insufficient leadership for executing strategies and ensure that effective programs are put in place to close the gap. These activities should also include the Board requesting metrics from HR that provide measurements of the effectiveness of succession planning programs, outcomes of leadership development programs, and patterns of internal promotions for critical leadership roles.

The Role of HR in Leadership Development

Human Resources should be the center of expertise and leadership in the company. Questions such as how leadership should be built and measured should be answered by HR, and that means HR should be implementing strong succession management programs, including finding and retaining top talent and developing partnerships with key external service providers. It should also be up to HR to design a robust strategy to develop leadership with strategies that focus on enhancing the leadership capabilities of front-line managers and executives alike. An integrated approach is critical, as development that blends formal and informal opportunities are the ones that will be most successful.

In addition, HR should be working to create a culture of leadership within the organization, so that line managers and leaders are all clear about their expectations and accountability in terms of their own development and of leaders down the ladder. To cement this culture, the Human Resources team should be modeling such behavior, including understanding how their actions and interactions within the organization can serve as a demonstration of expectations for leaders of every level. Lastly, HR needs to step in and help executives understand the risks to the future success of the organization when potential leadership gaps are present. This should also include insight provided to the CEO and Board on how to build strong leadership that will execute successful strategies. 

The Real Bottom Line

The correct answer to the question of who carries the responsibility of leadership development is that the leader must drive the process while the company and HR facilitate their development. With no incentives, training or mentors, even those with the highest potential will have difficulty realizing their roles as leaders and developing the leadership skills necessary for executing business strategies. On the other hand, no amount of training, incentives and coaching will produce leaders if individuals do not own their development. Learning to lead is a lifelong process that takes hard work, practice, new skills, lots of feedback and continual reflection activities that should always be supported and encouraged by those who have already achieved the highest leadership positions.

If you’re wondering whether your leadership development program positions your company and employees for success, or you would like to review and fine-tune your current design, please contact Mike Milsted at 262-786-9200 or via email at mmilsted@lak-group.com.