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How Best to Develop a Strong Leadership Team

You have some great people in your top team but they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. You’d like them to develop their capability so they can be part of a strong leadership team to help the business grow – but how do you go about doing this?

People Director Shaun O’Hara has a tried and tested method in developing strong leadership teams that he first started using at Tesco two decades ago.

Defining a Leadership Standard

It starts with defining a ‘leadership standard’ – a list of qualities that summarise what leadership should look like. ‘I recommend putting together a framework of around 20-25 items that your business leaders require in order to deliver the strategy and in-year plan,’ Shaun says.

Shaun recommends tailoring the approach for your organisation: ‘While there are often common themes, such as being able to set an agenda, take people with you and live the company values, you need to specifically define what great looks like in each business, in my experience,’ he says. ‘It will look different in different contexts.’ He also recommends designing it with the business leaders. ‘It results in early adoption and embedding into how leaders lead.’

Use a 360˚ feedback mechanism

Once you have the list of qualities that define what good leadership looks like in your business, you measure each leader against it, using what Shaun calls a ‘360˚ feedback mechanism’. As well as getting feedback from their line manager, you also get their peers and direct reports to score them against the list (this is done anonymously and scores are aggregated to encourage them to be candid). Once that’s done, each manager gets a report to see how they’ve been rated by their colleagues, compared to how they’ve rated themselves.

This 360˚ approach is the secret of the method’s success, according to Shaun. ‘It’s a very powerful way to help establish people’s strengths and identify the areas where they need to improve,’ he says. ‘Because it’s 360 – from different perspectives – and the scores are aggregated, it’s difficult to ignore when there are obvious gaps between where they think you are and where you think you are. I’ve found that people tend to accept the results pretty quickly.’

Shaping a Leadership development programme

The information gathered by the exercise can also be used to look at the total leadership team’s relative strengths and weaknesses. ‘The data is used to shape a leadership development programme for the year ahead, by developing leaders in the skills they need most to drive business results’ says Shaun.

Shaun recommends looking at no more than 8-10 areas that need attention and turning them into modules for development for the coming year. ‘It also becomes particularly powerful when it’s embedded into the performance and development cycle,’ he says. ‘Leaders use their reports to build development plans which then get reviewed as part of their regular one-to-one meetings with their own manager or coach. You can use it to help managers define their goals for the coming year.’

If you’d like to try this exercise in improving your leadership team, call us on 020 3239 3307 or find out more about how we help businesses deliver the growth they are looking for.

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