Leading the Leaders

The Importance of a Leadership in Development

01 Mar 2015, Björn Nee

Leading the Leaders

How important is it to develop leadership? What effect does anachronistic leadership have in today’s organisations? How is leadership affected in different cultures?

Today, there are probably as many answers to these questions as there are experts. Of course leadership is characterised by the time we live in, or ought to be. However, not all organizations are sufficiently development oriented for this to be the case.

For centuries, scientists have tried to find common denominators among successful leaders. Many have researched what personal qualities one should or must have in order to become a successful leader. It turns out that there is no good answer.

However, not so long ago the unilaterally authoritarian leadership began to be questioned. Researchers found that there were other more successful ways to be a good leader. In fact, modern research shows that it takes a nearly a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional motivation to become truly successful in a leadership role.

A leadership undergoing change

Organizations of today face different challenges than those of the 1960s and 70s. One only has to look to the younger generations X and Y to see that they have completely different demands of their work and their employers than previous generations. Something else to consider is the changes in information management today, as new technology becomes ever more complex for leaders to control, at the same time as enabling entirely new levels of information access.

There is also the changeability of the young to keep in mind, which puts new demands on development and participation, in order to keep talent in the company. New research shows that young people are increasingly changing jobs due to the employer or due to the feeling there is no room to grow and develop. Of course this movement also affects other employees in the organisation.

However, it isn’t just the new generations’ expectations on their employers, which places new demands on these. In fact, we all look at employers differently today than in previous decades. Today employees expect more. To manage the expectations and obligations of employees are some of the most difficult issues the leaders of today have to face. And companies’ success stands or falls by its leadership.

Corporate culture and national culture’s impact on leadership

Increased globalization also create complications when the same kind of leadership is allowed to prevail cross borders. More companies underline the importance of being able to adapt leadership and the development of leadership based on national culture. The various leadership theories have also been received in different ways and with varied interpretations in different countries. Culture is based on values, rules, attitudes, expectations and needs. Today’s leadership must understand the cultural differences and develop strategies based on an understanding of different cultures.

Manager behaviour and their leadership constantly influence the company culture and spirit.  For example, if the management of a company displays a highly authoritarian spirit and also perhaps clear governance according to hierarchical overtones, then it’s likely that the culture may not breathe outspokenness or initiative. If on the other hand the leadership is too vague and constantly seeks consensus - where there might even be a certain decision agony displayed by management - then this ambiguity creates a culture of uncertainty and lack of commitment from the employees.  These two examples could actually reflect one of the differences in leadership between Sweden and United Kingdom.

Most companies generally think they have found a functioning leadership and corporate culture that works. But in companies undergoing development, the culture will develop too and is likely to undergo change sooner or later. A change in leadership will change the corporate culture – and equally for the corporate culture to change, the leadership must change. But when will this be put to the test?

An example of when cultures are challenged is when businesses grow. New employees or managers fail to grasp the existing culture, but bring their own new influences into the business. This is obviously more difficult to handle the faster your business grows. And we have all heard of culture-clashes.

What does it mean when cultures collide? Many have of course experienced mergers that have not delivered their intended results in terms of efficiency and enhanced competitiveness. Unfortunately, this happens too often and this seems even more difficult to achieve when there are cultural differences. If the companies to merge belong to different nationalities, it simply becomes even more difficult. Why?

This illustrates an often-overlooked fact - that national cultural differences create more troubles than feared, and that management often are not sufficiently taking the differences into account.

Everything points to the somewhat ignored fact that leadership is closely linked to the company culture. Can we then justify continuing to build and grow our businesses, through organic growth or through acquisitions, and maintain our culture without adapting and developing our leadership strategies?

The existing managers should make an effort to maintain the good elements of the company culture, through their leadership, and welcome other good new features. This will create understanding and acceptance of change in the organisation. The new leaders and the new parts of the organisation should accept both the existing culture and introduce new ingredients. Leaders learn and teach by setting good examples. Both the existing and the new culture ingredients should be questioned, to achieve what is best for the company.

There will always be culture-clashes as businesses grow and establish themselves in other countries. The first eyebrow will be raised during planning because there is almost never a consistency in law, regulations, business ethics, morals, duties, working conditions and so on, between countries. But how can you manage to embrace the local national and business rules as quickly as possible, without losing your corporate culture?

The biggest mistake managers make is to downplay the differences. They have trouble seeing the risks with these differences in leadership style. Whether you hire locally or ‘export’ leadership, or indeed both, external support is recommended. The new leadership at the new office must be able to handle the existing culture and the new national elements, as well as the corporate cultures that new employees bring with them.

When corporate lines realise the importance of having a sustainable strategy to retain and develop the organization’s good leadership and culture, the international efforts do not need to be so painful. By hiring professional support for local managers, you have the opportunity to secure investments made in good leadership, and to ensure that the company culture survives. The management dialogue becomes effective and the priorities right. Proper support for local managers includes competence and sensitivity. To hire expertise in leadership cannot be overrated here.

The modern way to develop leadership

Today, those who want to develop leadership in their organisations often take in management consultants. Different styles of teaching have different focus. Leadership institutes often focus on classroom based training. Management consultants more often base their training on the actual situation of the individual and the company. The consultant’s primary focus is developing the company. Therefore the consultant’s approach will be to focus on what is best for the company. 

Training can be done in groups or individually. A combination is often chosen in larger organisations. The effect is always best on a one to one basis, because in those cases the coach can easily adapt the training to the individual and his or her situation.

Leadership development today

Taking theories to management teams and getting them to practice so that new behavioural systems are achieved is not so easy. Those of us who are putting together leadership development programs take the theory and apply it to practical everyday life. By creating memory aids, lists, images and abbreviations of theories, we provide leaders with tools to practice and work out how to use this for their own development and to achieve the best impact for their company. By using tools adapted to their own situation and the conditions they are subjected to, they will succeed in developing their leadership skills.

Based on research showing that no specific personality type fits better than others in a leadership position, we see that many different types of people can be good managers. Thus, there is not a homogeneous group who are born leaders and anyone in a leadership position must ultimately find their own path of development. What we do, is help smooth the path and ease the way towards a leadership in development.

“A change in leadership will change the corporate culture – and equally for the corporate culture to change, the leadership must change.

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