How organizations can support the leadership journey

Written by Steph Noble, Managing R&D Consultant

When thinking about leadership it is important organizations consider the broader picture. Do they always have the leadership journey in mind? If not, they should.

What is the leadership journey?

The leadership journey describes the path a leader will take throughout their career, progressing through leadership levels and overcoming unique challenges along the way. It requires leaders to develop the attributes conducive to success at their current leadership level while simultaneously looking to the future to determine the resources needed for the next step of their leadership journey.

Why does the leadership journey matter?

In all levels of leadership, it is crucial for the success of any organization that leaders exhibit effective leadership qualities. Research has shown that effective leadership is linked to organizational performance such as increased employee outcomes, retention rates, and overall productivity. All levels of leadership can have a profound effect on the emotional climate of the organization and how employees feel at work.

Leaders are the thread that connects employees, teams, and departments across the organization. Whether you’re looking at a first-level leadership role or a senior position, all levels of leadership have their own unique responsibilities, and each is significant. We could go so far as to say that one leadership level could not be successful without the paralleled success of another. In the words of Thomas Reid, “The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

We recently conducted an international research study exploring the leadership journey and found that organizations tend to focus their development efforts on more senior leadership levels. This suggests that the development of lower levels of leadership may not be recognized as important as senior development in comparison , and this disparate approach could damage the future success of an organization. Effective leadership development will benefit all leadership levels and is recommended for organizational success.

3 stages of the leadership journey

The number of leadership levels applicable to each leadership journey vary from one organization to another, but across the majority we can identify at least three distinct levels of leadership.

  1. First-level leader – Typically, this includes roles such as team leads or managers and signifies the beginning of an individual’s leadership journey. It often involves leading a single team within a business function or department with responsibilities that can include the tactical delivery of team and business objectives.
  2. Mid-level leader – This role, often a director or department manager, tends to have direct reports who are leading their own teams. Typically, mid-level leaders lead a function within a business division and are responsible for functional strategy and delivery.
  3. Senior leader – Generally, this role signifies one of the highest levels of leadership that one can achieve on their leadership journey. Senior leaders such as C-suite executives often oversee a major division, geographical region, or part of the business, and may be a member of the organization’s executive leadership team. Typically, they lead a sizeable team spanning a range of business functions or departments and are responsible for overall organizational strategy and success.

Each of these leadership levels builds upon the next in many ways in terms of responsibility, requirements, and expectations. This demonstrates how important it is for a leader to build strong foundations when starting out on their leadership journey. To do this, they must understand what success looks like as a leader at each point along their leadership journey and how it changes from one level to the next.

What do we expect of all levels of leadership?

It’s no secret that we demand a lot of leaders in today’s world of work. At all leadership levels, leaders must create an inspiring purpose for employees, demonstrate and facilitate agile and innovative thinking, and empower employees to reach their full potential. Simultaneously, they are expected to maintain focus and momentum on key objectives, provide support to all of their direct reports, and exhibit inclusive behaviors to create a climate where employees feel valued and heard. Throughout all of this, leaders need to consider the impact of their character and show resilience, composure, and courage when under pressure.

How to support leaders to ensure successful leadership journeys

Organizations can utilize the following strategies to support all levels of leadership:

  • Focus on human-centered leadership – To be successful at all levels, leaders should value the unique talents and contributions of each individual employee. They must demonstrate behaviors that make each employee feel trusted and respected. This approach requires authenticity and openness and is grounded in the principles of emotional intelligence.
  • Support development of the right attributes at the right level – It would benefit organizations to stay up-to-date and current with methods and content regarding leadership assessment and talent development. Within our research we discovered that often, time is spent assessing and developing attributes in leaders that are no longer seen as a priority or are not as relevant at certain leadership levels.
  • Tailor development by leadership level – Investment should be made in the development of leaders at all leadership levels. Development provided should include tailored content specific to each level of leadership. Our research found that leaders across all levels felt personal experiences such as individual coaching sessions and mentorship initiatives were some of the most useful opportunities that could be provided to them.
  • Select the right candidates – When it comes to selection of leaders, consideration should be taken to ensure individuals are placed into positions of leadership due to their potential to be a good leader rather than their technical expertise. Identifying individuals with high potential early on in their careers can help organizations to develop a robust leadership pipeline. This involves assessing not only technical skills but also leadership qualities such as communication, decision-making, and emotional intelligence.

Prioritize development at all levels of leadership

It is in the best interest of organizations to spend time and resources carefully assessing and developing their leaders at all levels throughout the leadership journey. This should not only increase organizational productivity and effectiveness in the short-term, but also ensure the long-term success of an organization’s leadership pipeline. Investing in development, providing opportunities, and fostering a positive leadership climate will prepare leaders for increased responsibilities and more senior roles as they progress through their own leadership journey.

 

The leadership journey: Insights into effective leadership progression

Only 38% of leaders feel extremely or very prepared to move to the next level of leadership.

This executive summary uncovers the challenges and necessary changes for leaders to effectively progress, leveraging our extensive experience in leadership development.

It integrates perspectives from employees, leaders, and organizations to highlight critical mindsets and behaviors for transitioning to higher leadership roles.

We provide a snapshot of:

  • Leadership impact and effectiveness at each level
  • Key leadership traits by level
  • Leader transition challenges and readiness
  • Strategies for leader transition success and effectiveness
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