Organisations can and must develop leaders for success in today’s highly competitive and volatile business environment.

In the 2010 Global IBM CEO Study, chief executive officers cited creativity as the most important leadership quality over the next five years. As such, leaders who can respond to change and lead organisations for sustainable growth and competitive advantage are needed.

Leaders can be developed or “made” as there is plenty of research on what makes a leader. This knowledge has enabled organisations to design and conduct programmes that are aimed at leadership development.  

Below are the essential stages in leadership development:

Defining leadership competencies

A competency is basically a characteristic of an employee that contributes to successful job performance and the achievement of organisational results.

Thus, to develop leaders, we must understand what leaders really do. Leadership complements management and both are needed in an organisation.

The key management activities are planning, organising and controlling while leadership is about driving change, says Harvard professor John Kotter. For change to happen, leaders are involved in setting direction, aligning and inspiring people. 

Leadership development programmes therefore aim to ensure that an organisation’s leaders possess these fundamental leadership competencies.

Assessing leadership potential

Leadership potential can be assessed by determining the competencies or effective leadership behaviours that are needed for a leadership role.

This identification and assessment is typically performed through 360-degree feedback and assessment centres. This tool aims to collect opinions about an individual's performance from peers, direct reports, his superior and even his customers. This provides a complete picture of what competencies the potential leader needs to develop further.

In an assessment centre, the exercises carried out include a job-related assessment and in-person simulations. These can be mixed and matched based on the competencies defined for a specific leadership role and are administered by expert assessors.

Developing self-leadership

Psychologist Daniel Goleman highlighted that while intelligence, toughness, determination and vision are required for success, these are insufficient.

Specifically, a high level of emotional intelligence (EI) which encompasses self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills is needed.

Emotional intelligence can be learnt but it takes a sincere desire, time and commitment. While classroom training programmes can impart the knowledge, coaching and feedback is often necessary to embed EI behavioural changes.

Excelling in team leadership

A coercive approach to managing is outdated. A successful leader is one who understands that people are different and complex, with unique motivation and satisfaction requirements.

Hence, a leader must have great people skills to create high performance teams.

Engaging in opportunities

To embed the leadership competencies they have learnt, potential leaders must have opportunities to try them out and develop them fully.

While the business environment is demanding and sometimes unforgiving, potential leaders can seek out leadership opportunities in low-risk, non-judgmental environments by serving in roles in clubs and societies.

Everyone can serve as a leader

Becoming a leader is not easy but it can be developed through systematic and proven approaches, such as those highlighted above.

Everybody can learn to become a better leader as part of his career development or to serve society.