Current State

Slightly more than half of employers (53%) have an organization-wide model for how leaders should think and act, according to Brandon Hall Group’s 2022 study, Benchmarking Leadership Development

Complexities

Because more employers are “democratizing” leadership development by offering it to more employees at all levels, competing sets of values or competencies can create mixed messages and confusion among leaders and employees on what the organization stands for and how leaders should collaborate and manage. 

The great majority of employers surveyed (85%) said they plan to enhance their leadership development programs over the next 1-2 years. How will those efforts be effective if different parts of the organization are basing improvements on different sets of values and extolling different competencies and styles of leadership? 

Consequences

In multiple Brandon Hall Group studies, most employers do not believe their leadership development programs are effective in improving leaders’ ability to drive business growth. 

A compelling leadership development program has many facets, including creating continuous learning journeys and expanding the number of employees who receive leadership training. But the foundation has to be that all development efforts are created from the same playbook – a common set of leadership values and competencies that are communicated, supported, demonstrated and taught at all levels of an organization. This is how strong leadership development culture are built. 

Critical Question

How can employers gain consensus for organization-wide leadership models?
What are the overriding values and competencies that should drive how leaders at all levels think and act?

Brandon Hall Group POV

Organizations without widespread agreement on leadership principles and competencies should take steps to understand the differences and collaborate to create one universal model. 

Brandon Hall Group research interviews indicate that many organizations don’t necessarily disagree on leadership values, but often confuse leadership competencies with management or differ on levels of proficiency. One leadership model does not mean everyone demonstrates it at the same level of competency. That will vary by leader experience and level. It simply means that everyone operates by the same set of values and principles, such as inclusion, collaboration, emotional intelligence, developing business acumen, etc. 

Many organizations get caught up in trying to capture several very specific behaviors and functions rather than focusing a few guiding principles that frame the approach to leadership. 

Here are four high-level strategies for gaining organization-wide consensus on leadership principles. 

Understand the Points of Contention 

HR leaders should use design thinking and other approaches to get a better understanding of the different lenses through which various parts of the organization view leadership and leadership development and the principles of leadership. 

Our view is that different functions or locations within organizations are not necessarily talking the same language when it comes to leadership. Be inclusive in using networks, surveys and other means to understand what the conflicts or misunderstandings are so it can be determined how they can be resolved. 

Give Employees a Strong Voice 

In building your understanding of the barriers to an organization-wide approach to leadership development, ensure you understand what employees – people who are not in leadership positions – value in leadership. You want to understand if there are different views between leaders/managers and those they lead and supervise. This also can provide insights on what might be impeding engagement or talent retention so you can make progress on those fronts as well.

Inclusively Build a Common Leadership Model 

Once the barriers to an organization-wide model are understood, use an inclusive process to gain consensus and develop one. It should include all functions, all geographies and all levels of employees. Employee Resource Groups can be great catalysts for ideas, discussion and change. Leadership impacts everyone, so everyone should have a role in improving it. 

Build a Strong Communication Strategy 

The key to an organization-wide leadership model is making sure everyone knows what it is and the reasons behind it so they can be mindful of it in their day-to-day interactions. Once consensus is reached and a model is forged or amended, it just can’t sit there as a document. Employers need to have very specific strategies not only to inform employees that there is a model, but to communicate — and demonstrate — how everyone must participate in building a strong leadership culture across the enterprise. 

Cliff Stevenson

Cliff Stevenson is Principal Analyst, Workforce Management Practice, for Brandon Hall Group. He came to Brandon Hall Group in 2015 from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) where he was a senior analyst since 2012. Cliff's experience as human capital research analyst has focused on data and analytics, performance management, recruitment, acquisition, retention, and attrition.