4 December 2015
The financial challenges facing the public sector are well
documented. Leadership teams have to manage to higher standards
driven by more demanding citizens, but with a 30-40% reduction in
budgets. They are overseeing a cessation of services and reductions
in staff to operate more commercially, efficiently and
The demands and pressure on leaders to deliver
against the current economic backdrop have never been greater, and
the value that learning and development can add is ever more
relevant. Despite tightly squeezed budgets, in many NHS
organisations learning and development is seen as a key part of
maximising performance and releasing an individual's full
potential, rather than viewing it as an extravagance that cannot be
justified in today's cash strapped times.
However, as the nature of public sector
leadership has changed, so too the way in which we educate those
leaders has had to adapt.
New leadership qualities
Previously, leadership development was pretty
straightforward. It was about understanding which characteristics
exceptional leaders have and using face to face teaching to help
leaders model them. The required qualities were easily defined:
charisma, confidence, impact, decision-making and directive
leadership. Face to face learning sessions would typically involve
theoretical sessions supplemented with a workplace assignment and
the support of an action learning set using tried and tested
project management methodology.
This approach is no longer enough to give senior
executives the confidence and value they need to ensure the
development of highly effective leaders in shorter time frames. The
leadership qualities of the past do not quite cut the mustard in
today's world. A leader needs to make tough, unpopular decisions
under the watchful and critical eye of the public and media. This
takes resilience - but what sits behind resilience? Self-belief?
Emotional regulation? Ingenuity? The list goes on. In our
experience, development specialists don't always have a deep
understanding of how to develop resilience, yet this can yield huge
value to a client. We need a robust evidence based perspective.
New leaders can't be ruthless with
decision-making. They have to bring people along with them. Being
directive will not win you any favours. Collaborative, motivational
and in touch is the new order of things.
You'll notice the description of new leadership
qualities gets longer and longer. That's because no one way fits
all. There is no one leadership style which will suffice.
Adaptability is key; leaders need to move seamlessly from behaviour
to behaviour depending on the individual they're communicating with
or the situation they are in at that precise moment. Developing a
'tool kit' of approaches for leaders to call on at any given time
is one of the secrets of successful leadership.
Developing this tool kit is time consuming and
expensive if traditional face to face learning is continually
applied, however blended approaches to learning that utilise
elearning prior to face to face events, action learning sets and
coaching support enables leaders to develop a sound knowledge of
the underpinning theoretical models in preparation for to face to
face learning and skills consolidation, thus accelerating the
journey to mastery of their new leadership qualities.
Finally, leadership development now needs to
address the fact that the nature of a leader's authority has
changed. In today's world leadership is distributed, teams make
decisions, consensus is a must. So how do leaders influence when
their authority is not a given? Leaders sit on many management
teams, boards, and sub-groups, and the ability to use their
influencing skills in a different scenario is the challenge. As a
result, development specialists must work with a client not on
traditional influencing skills but on how to use the already
present skill from a different angle.
Rarely do clients commission a development
programme with a clear set of learning goals - they know the
problem they face but not how to tackle it or the skills needed to
be successful. Even after a session to attempt to elicit learning
goals, they may remain fluid.
As educators we need to stop obsessing about pinning
down SMART goals. If they're there, great, we'll focus on them, but
the majority of clients have to work 'in the moment'. Life moves
fast, milestones move, challenges change, priorities shift. Goals
set four weeks ago are not important today. We live in an on-demand
world where leaders require on-demand learning and support. Many
executives gain most insight from direct feedback and take great
value from psychometrics, solicited review of their performance and
The conclusion is short and simple. The new world
requires learning and development activity to be flexible.
Programmes will not be successful if they cling tightly to tried
and tested models. Be brave and let them go.
- Develop resilience: dig deep using a systems leadership
- Help leaders to be collaborative, motivational and in touch -
being ruthless and overly directive no longer works
- Help leaders to think big and collaborate across organisations
- Help leaders to develop flexible influential skills
- Be prepared for ever-shifting goals
- Be highly adaptable and client-led more than ever, there is no
By Natalie Holt, chartered occupational psychologist.
Find out more
If you would discuss any of the topics covered
here or how Capita Health Partners can support your learning and
development programmes, please contact Christian Hatton on 07808
013 265 or Christian.firstname.lastname@example.org
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