Leadership development is an investment in all our futures

Written for the National Housing Federation to support their Young Leaders Experience ICC | BIRMINGHAM 19–20 SEPTEMBER 2017 http://youngleaders.housing.org.uk/

In an increasingly challenging and complex world, I wholeheartedly agree with David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation that ‘nobody quite knows what the future holds’ and that the only certainty for the future of the housing sector is that its leaders will need a range of capabilities and behaviours. They will also need to have the emotional intelligence and confidence to know when and how best to deploy their leadership.

This is the case across all sectors and organisations. The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report boldly acknowledges, ‘Today, as never before, organisations do not just need more strong leaders, they need a completely different type of leader’ adding, ‘leadership today is less about the “art” of leadership and more about the challenges leaders are facing’.

It’s impressive to see that the housing sector is focussed on the future of their leadership and the need for succession planning, something often left too late. I would argue that investing in young leaders will reap organisations, and in turn, entire sectors with rich rewards throughout a leader’s journey. Many new leaders are in the important transition phase of moving from individual contributor to becoming a manager and leader; one of the most exciting, but anxious transitions in a career.

Done well, this can set a leader on a successful and enjoyable leadership path. Learnt early in a career, leadership skills and behaviours can be honed and developed in ‘real world’ scenarios. Young leaders have the time to experience more trial and error, which when combined with the value of real time feedback, is priceless. Managed less successfully, this transition can lead to challenges later in a leader’s career, especially if they become more senior and their impact has greater consequences.

Understanding what leadership actually is and what it means day to day can be a minefield. If leadership is less about an “art” and more about the challenges, then what are the challenges leaders face? 815 million google responses are returned when you ask a question about leadership, so it’s not surprising the information, advice and guidance can seem confusing and often conflicting, especially for young leaders at the beginning of their journey.

Compelling research from Ashridge Business School that used hindsight learning and identification of critical incidents by asking the question ‘What do you wish you’d known 10 years ago?’ to senior leaders, found a common and surprisingly simple list, which I am sure would appeal to anyone perplexed by the world of leadership advice. Overwhelmingly, leaders wished they had known more about themselves.

‘Knowing yourself, being yourself and looking after yourself’ is the centre of the Clore Social Leadership development model. Spending time focusing on self may initially seem counter intuitive, leaders should be thinking about others, shouldn’t they? We’d argue that successful leaders must critically assess and understand their strengths, weaknesses, motivations and values as a minimal requirement. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are key places to start for any leader, unlocking the confidence, curiosity and resilience required to identify the best routes for each individual leader to take on their leadership journey.

Introducing the concept of leadership and associated challenges at the earliest stage, with the right support, expertise, network and opportunities for trial and error can only be a good thing. It’s how the real craft of leadership is honed. The concept of ‘Leadersmithing’ gets to the heart of this, recognising what many don’t, that leadership is a lifelong journey, it’s not about a title of status, it’s difficult and the learning probably never ends.

I believe providing young leaders with a focused opportunity to think about themselves as leaders, is not just empowering for them, it is important for their organisations and is absolutely necessary for a thriving society now, and in the future. Particularly if we are to meet our respective ambition of training and developing even more leaders, both in the housing and social sectors.

I’m the Director of Programmes and Leadership Innovation at Clore Social Leadership, visit our website to find out more.

I believe leadership development is a way to unlock human potential, which in turn can empower people to be courageous and shape a better society. I work with social leaders. You can connect with me on Twitter.