Leadership Development in the 21st Century

Leadership Development in the 21st Century

I’m pleased to once again introduce a guest post from Emma Donaldson-Feilder, a registered occupational psychologist focused on workplace well-being, employee engagement, leadership and management. In this post Emma shares how leadership development is crucial to the future success of any organization.

As I mentioned in my previous blog posts, good leadership and management are vital for organizational success. Given current pressures — from the recession (and hopefully recovery), financial crisis, globalization and enormous technological change — organizational success is harder than ever to achieve; and good leadership is therefore ever more important.

However, the type of leadership needed in 2013 is very different from that which many workplace leaders experienced in their early careers.

Meanwhile, in the academic domain, leadership theory is developing at a rapid pace, and the insights it provides have a lot to offer those concerned with establishing leadership and leadership development in modern organizations.

In our report for the CIPD, my colleague Rachel Lewis and I reviewed the major developments in leadership in academic theory and research, and considered the implications for real-world leadership and leadership development.

Our review showed that there were three main areas of emerging leadership theory and research:

  1. Relational leadership (focusing on the relationship between the leader and their team)
  2. Values-based leadership (focusing on the characteristics of the leader and their sense of self, self-awareness and ethics)
  3. Contextual leadership (focusing on the importance of the environment and system within which the leader operates)

Each of these has interesting implications for those involved in leadership and leadership development in organizations.

Relational leadership

This strand of leadership theory emphasizes the need for leaders and managers to engage and develop good relationships with those who work for them. It also explores the important role of ‘followers’, including the concept of shared leadership, which involves power being shared between the leader and team members.

Leading in our complex, fast moving, knowledge-based economy requires that employees be engaged, and that results be achieved through a network of relationships, not a static hierarchy and certainly not through an ‘old-fashioned’ command and control approach.

This is likely to be increasingly the case as those who have grown up in the age of social media move into the workforce: these younger generations expect to be engaged and empowered, and to communicate instantly with whomever they want.

Leaders need to adapt their style, and employers need to support their current and future leaders to develop their skills and approaches, particularly in terms of interpersonal capabilities.

In our research, my colleagues and I have developed a framework of management behaviors required to create sustainable employee engagement in those being managed, which practitioners can use to design leadership development programs.

Values-based leadership

This category of leadership theories brings consideration of morals, integrity, honesty and transparency to the mix, with models such as ethical and authentic leadership. Complementing relational leadership models, values-based leadership speaks of elements such as trust, fairness and authentic relationships.

In the wake of recent scandals about leaders in business, political and institutional domains, particularly in the banking sector, there is an increasing scrutiny of leadership ethics and a demand that those in positions of power show greater transparency and integrity than in the past.

If leaders are to bring integrity and transparency to their leadership roles, they need to understand themselves and the impact they have on others.

Leadership development needs to support leaders in building insight into themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, values and motivations — and how these affect their behavior and their interactions with those they lead.

360-degree feedback can be a useful tool to increase understanding of others’ perceptions. Creating an ethical climate within the organization is also important.

Contextual leadership

This third emerging area of leadership theory and research takes a broader perspective and looks at both the context and the whole system, not just the individual leader or leader-follower relationship.

In the dynamic, constantly changing environment of the workplace, leaders will have difficulty providing direction as there are no easy answers, and solutions can only be found through rapid, effective knowledge sharing.

Leadership becomes more about collaborating to achieving a shared purpose, not structure and hierarchy, creating a complex adaptive system in which leadership is distributed across the organization.

To achieve this shift, leaders need to have a strongly systemic perspective, with an understanding of the organizational system as well as the wider business, sector, national and international context. They need to be agents of change through their self-management, behavior and relationships.

Leadership development in this context is not just about supporting those in senior positions to lead in ways that respond to the environment, culture and context, but also about helping everyone in the organization acquire the skills and mentality to share in its leadership.

Leadership fit for the future

The rapidly changing world of work is echoed in a fast developing range of leadership theories. Falling into three broad categories — relational, values-based and contextual leadership — these bodies of theory and research provide a foundation for leadership development to make organizations and their leaders fit for the future.