Putting people and people leaders first
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Putting people and people leaders first

Leadership skills need to be developed at every level, not just in the executive suite

I recently had a good talk with over 20 leaders from different companies. Unsurprisingly, we all agreed that in 2024, our focus should continue to be on our people.

In a constantly changing world of leadership, your people should be your concern. The best leaders understand that we need more than one person to have all the leadership qualities. The challenge is ensuring we have enough leaders in our organisation to handle whatever comes our way. To do that, we need to change how we think about leadership.

But here is the challenge: In a perfect world, everyone in the team would be seen as a leader. Companies would help everyone become leaders right from the start, not just when they get promoted.

Thinking that leadership is only for those in higher positions is a problem that stops people from becoming good leaders. One executive I spoke with told me that recent research by Deloitte revealed that 84% of leaders had no formal preparation (and we wonder why people leave). We need a new understanding and way of thinking about leadership to set the right priorities.

Leadership is not a title or promotion; it’s a set of skills cultivated and applied over time. Building leaders is a continuous process, and expecting immediate results upon promotion sets unrealistic standards.

However, people, by nature, especially the younger generations, may not aspire to be leaders due to the weight of expectations. The pressure to excel in managing people to achieve key performance indicators (KPIs) discourages potential leaders.

There is also a popular misconception that specialists receive comparable salaries without the added headaches of leadership roles. Organisations must rectify this by grooming individuals for leadership from day one, ensuring a seamless transition into management roles if/when necessary.

Modern employees, driven by a desire for control and quick success, often choose specialist roles. Organisations must address this trend by emphasising the importance of human skills.

Better people leaders need better people skills. Leadership is not solely a top-down expectation but a set of human skills to interact with people at all levels. As employees progress, their human skills must evolve, dispelling the notion that leadership is exclusive to those at the summit.

Where to start?

Ask yourself: What would our organisation look like if we prioritised leadership development from day one? What percentage of our current workforce embodies leadership? What do we need to do when traditional university education may not equip individuals with leadership skills, prompting the need for improvements upon joining the workforce?

Define clear outcomes and leadership behaviours: Work collaboratively to decipher organisational outcomes into specific leadership behaviours. These behaviours should encompass both task-oriented and people-centric skills.

Integrate leadership development from Day One: Implement a proactive approach to leadership development by incorporating it from the onboarding stage. Ensure that employees understand the importance of leadership skills regardless of their current position.

Establish leadership at all levels: Break away from the traditional notion of leadership capabilities being reserved for higher positions. Develop a framework of leadership competencies applicable to all levels, fostering leadership throughout the organisation.

Focus on human skills development: Recognise the significance of human skills in leadership. Develop initiatives targeting enhancing communication, empathy, and collaboration skills, irrespective of organisational levels.

Re-evaluate promotion criteria: Rethink promotion criteria to align with a more comprehensive evaluation of leadership potential. Consider a holistic approach that assesses both technical skills and leadership qualities.

Demonstrate people-centric leadership at the C-level: Your actions will set the tone for the entire organisation and reinforce the importance of these behaviours in achieving organisational success.

By focusing on outcomes, instilling leadership behaviours from the outset, and prioritising human skills, organisations can create a place where every member is a people leader, fostering a resilient and adaptive workforce ready to tackle the challenges of the future.

An organisation that instills leadership from the outset creates a workforce equipped to navigate challenges and seize opportunities.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer, Managing Director, and Founder at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Centre. She is fascinated by the challenge of transforming education for all to create better prospects for Thais and people everywhere. Reach her email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa

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