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Proof of Leadership Blog: developing great leaders

Developing your people: 5 simple ways to achieve this new leadership performance target


As part of wrapping up 2016 I’ve been reviewing “most requested” capabilities required of leaders in 2017.

And the winner is…developing people.

Organisations expect leaders to focus on revenue targets, customer service targets, and productivity targets.

But increasingly leaders are also are expected demonstrate how they are developing people for performance and as talent.

Here I’ve identified 5 (relatively) simple ways to develop your people.

1. Making sure they know what’s expected

A key element of this is feedback. As I said in my 9 ways to design valued and brilliant leadership development programs article, we mostly mess up feedback – it’s outsourced to surveys and responsibility for results is targeted at the survey process, instead of the feedback givers and the individuals involved. Creating structured, well-timed, and regular feedback can help people identify strengths and career-limiting blindspots.

The other key element is encouraging forward planning. I’m constantly surprised by the number of organisations not doing forward planning at the individual level. It may be that this is tangled up in concerns about performance plans and remuneration, but knowing is expected for the year, helps people to focus and achieve results – in cognitive neuroscience terms it can create certainty and reduce anxiety.

Development can be embedded into planning, with opportunities for project leadership, contribution ensuring that learning on the job is both planned for and recognised.

2.   Developing leadership mindsets

The ability to be flexible and build strategic mental habits is emerging as a crucial capability for leaders and for development. It can particularly assist developing leaders with:

  • understanding and changing mindset habits
  • responding to values and ethical challenges
  • decision-making and problem solving
  • collaborating with and influencing others[i][ii].

See a great article on the Neuroscience of Strategic Leadership

3. Getting out of the way

There are two things that are useful for leaders to consider here:

  • Giving their people opportunities and getting out of the way
  • Ensuring reflection is a structured activity for direct reports, talent, and teams
Providing opportunity

For leaders, having a developmental mindset often means taking a deep breath and giving someone a chance to be part of a new project, or team, or to do something innovative. BUT, it can bring up emotional responses that leaders generally ignore. These emotional responses can include fears that key performance targets won’t be achieved or concern about potential failures reflecting on leadership “brand”.

Enabling reflection

Reflective learning requires each individual to explore “how” as well as “what” they are learning. This supports acceleration of the development of not only the individual but also the enterprise and organization- it’s strategic[iii].

Reflecting often isn’t valued in organisations, and someone who says they are spending time reflecting instead of saying “I’m so busy” sets themselves up for some questions…

Leaders have the power to create structures, time and space, to help their people reflect, learn and think strategically through an enabling culture and through structuring in time.

4. Providing opportunities to understand what’s behind the strategy

Taking leaders to the next stage of cognitive development, supporting a shift in mindset, a broader strategic focus, and engagement with ambiguity[1] is becoming a feature of leadership development programs.

But you don’t need to wait for formal leadership development. You can spend time with your people talking about what’s behind the strategy aiming to broaden their perspective and help them understand that strategy is not a document, it’s a series of complex and often uncomfortable decisions and choices.

This, along with encouraging reflective capacity and development of personal leadership capability is crucial for developing talented, authentic and strategic leaders in your organisation.

5. Testing whether you have been successful

So how can you measure whether you’ve been successful in developing your people?

Here are some ideas for metrics and measures:

  • is your business unit seen by senior leaders and clients/customers/stakeholders as producing high quality people?
  • are your team members being promoted at a higher rate than others?
  • is business performance improving?
  • are your people engaged at work?
  • are talented people attracted to working in your team?


[i] Waldman, D. A., Balthazard, P. A., & Peterson, S. J., (2011). Leadership ad neuroscience : can we revolutionise the way that inspirational leaders are identified and developed? Academy of Management Perspectives. (25(1) 66-74.

[ii] See Carol Dweck Mindsets

[iii] See Bob Dick’s work on Action Learning

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