How to

How to... develop a world class leadership training scheme

Getting the workforce to accept difficult alterations to work is, well, difficult. Here an expert reveals how HR can ensure it goes as smoothly as possible...

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Jade Burke

Design by Matt Bonnar

Developing today’s leaders can have a significant positive impact on a business; it can help to drive better diversity at Board level, while also equipping an organisation with some of the very best talent available. But it isn’t just important to investors and leaders it’s also a crucial to all employees (80% of respondents to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital agreed leadership is a top priority for them.)

Despite this understanding of leadership’s importance, some Deloitte respondents felt their employer was lacking, as only 41% pinpoint their company as either ready or very ready to meet its leadership needs. In fact, developing next gen leaders was one of the top five concerns for more than half of respondents in a 2018 survey conducted by Development Dimensions International, The Conference Board and EY, indicating that this is a very real problem within organisations today. Similarly, in the same study of leaders and HR professionals from 54 countries, only 41% shared that they believed their leadership development program was a high or very high-quality offering. So what more could be done?


Speaking to HR Grapevine, Jill Ford, Head of HR for the UK publishing business Bauer Media, shares that to get a leadership training scheme right, an organisation needs to take a look at its company purpose and values, and intertwine them together in order to get the best out of people. “Leadership training should never be off the peg as what works in one organisation may not work in another,” she explains. “It is important that the company’s purpose and values are a fundamental part of the design of any programme, and that it is directly related to the leadership behaviours that have been identified as essential for growing the business.”

...knowing how to lead when things are uncertain or unclear, is absolutely critical...

Preparing for change

Being equipped for a rapidly evolving world perhaps has never been more critical than during the coronavirus crisis. While many organisations may never have expected to deal with a situation like a pandemic before, businesses have had to adapt, almost overnight, and learn new ways of working in order to survive. Due to this, a leadership training scheme also has to take these measures into account, something that Sarah Scannella, Leadership Coach at law firm Moore Barlow LLP, believes to be true. Scannella explains: “As well as the global pandemic, we are living in a period of exponential change quite unlike anything experienced before. Leaders now need to be able to operate in a business environment that is defined by uncertainty, non-linear change and a high level of disruption. This requires leadership that is built around resilience, adaptability and a genuine compassion for people.”

As a result, Scannella states that now more than ever makes it a critical time for organisations to consider inputting a training scheme for its future leaders, in order for a business to be successful in this ‘new normal’.


“For a business to be successful in this new normal, it needs leaders who can quickly adapt and evolve and are able to create an environment that is psychologically safe,” she says. “For leaders, knowing how to navigate this increasingly complex world compassionately, inclusively, and sensitively, as well as knowing how to lead when things are uncertain or unclear, is absolutely critical for a business to thrive. And this is not just about doing the ‘right thing’ – there is clear evidence that great leadership, psychological safety, and the ability to evolve and adapt delivers greater financial performance. It makes commercial sense.”

... recognise the importance of connecting with and managing people as ‘individuals’...

Not just ‘top down’

Businesses may operate a ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’ method when it comes to a leadership style, however, Bauer Media’s Ford suggests that the ‘top down’ approach isn’t an effective approach when it comes to developing the future leaders. “My belief is that leadership occurs at any level. Strong leadership is not just top down and where it occurs should be recognised and rewarded,” she says.

In order to make this a reality at Bauer, Ford shares that the firm has an academy that runs accelerator leadership development programs at different levels, over 12, 15 or 18 months. “This ensures that learning is embedded in the role and dedicated time is given, to be able to evidence that any new knowledge is applied on the job,” Ford adds.

What should be included in a leadership training scheme?

According to Sarah Scannella, Leadership Coach at law firm Moore Barlow LLP, a scheme should strive to offer reflection and self-discovery so that a leader can truly understand who they are and how to lead.

She suggests: “Furthermore, any development programme also needs to evoke insight, reflection and learning in the leader so they understand who they really are and how their life experiences, values and beliefs shape how they see the world. These factors determine how they ‘show up’ as a leader and play a critical role in the tone that leaders set within the organisation.”

Working remotely

And there’s no denying that the recent shift to remote work may cause difficulty when it comes to equipping leaders with the skills they need to move forwards, but it seems that this may have already been a problem prior to the coronavirus crisis. In fact, according to Gallup, more than 50% of managers feel disconnected from both their responsibilities as a leader and their organisation’s mission.

Considering this new way of working, Karen Geoghegan, former HR Director at sports car manufacturer Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd, says that businesses should embrace these changes to build leaders, while also focusing on how this can prepare leaders for new ways of learning. “Whilst I have no doubt that training approaches will be impacted by remote working, there is always opportunity from adversity. My advice would be don’t lose the learning – recognise the importance of connecting with and managing people as ‘individuals’ and look at how your business can drive personalised line management and leadership going forward,” she shares.


Similarly, Scannella points out the benefits of embracing the ‘unknown’, indicating that this is the best way to craft a future leader. She concludes: “Operating in the ‘unknown’ mirrors what most business leaders now face in this era of exponential change, so the more an organisation can do to support their leaders in experiencing and working with change, the more likelihood they have of thriving and successfully leading in such an uncertain world.”

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