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  • Writer's pictureArabella Ellis

Rethinking Leadership Development: The Untapped Potential of Team Dynamics


team members interacting

As I reflect on the state of leadership development today, I'm struck by a persistent gap in how we approach the cultivation of our leaders. For over two decades, I've observed a pattern that seems to resist evolution: the separation of leadership development from the very essence of what it means to lead – the team.


The Problems with Leadership development


As the Bersin Survey Nov’ 24 found, only 25% of companies believe that Leadership Development is delivering value and only 24% say their model is up to date and relevant.  So what is going wrong?


Hierarchical

In my conversations with HR professionals and through my own experiences, it's clear that we've compartmentalised leadership into hierarchical stages. Management development happens first. Programmes focus on the technicalities, the processes of management – running performance reviews, handling difficult conversations, and the like. 

As individuals climb the ranks, they encounter 'leadership training', and typically this focuses on shifting from management technicalities towards personal introspection. But here's the first crux: understanding oneself doesn't automatically translate to leading a team effectively.


Where is the team?

Leadership, in its truest sense, is about getting the best out of the people and resources at your disposal in service of the task at hand. It's about engaging a group, harnessing diversity, creating inclusion where all talents are valued, and steering people towards a shared business goal. Yet, our current models of leadership development often overlook this team-centric approach.


Bridging a strange gap


Consider the common leadership development programmes that whisk leaders away for off-site training. These can be insightful, raising self-awareness, yet they too often lack follow-through and application to people’s real world. There's little emphasis on applying what you have learned to the team you lead. It's as if leadership development is seen as an individual pursuit, separate from the collective effort.


And then, when there is team development, it is often relegated to 'team building' – activities that may foster social bonds but don't necessarily translate to better team performance. 


We need to bridge these strange gaps where leadership development doesn’t involve the team, and team building doesn’t involve leadership.  We need to make sure that leadership development involves the team, and builds high performing teams focused on high performance. As Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, has been quoted as saying: “Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.”


What are leaders for?


So, what's the way forward? It starts with redefining what leadership is for and identifying the business gaps we aim to address. Leadership isn't just about strategy or operational prowess; it's fundamentally about people – leading a team. Whether you're a team leader or part of a leadership team, the focus should be on creating a dynamic where the team is focused, energised, and supportive.


Time to shift Perspective


If you're crafting a leadership development programme, audit it with a critical eye. How does it integrate the reality of leading a team? Does it go beyond theory and address the practical challenges of team dynamics? Remember, the value of a team is that it allows you to achieve more by leveraging the strengths of others. As leaders, our development should reflect that.


In essence, let's shift our perspective. Let's place team leadership at the heart of leadership development, for it's in the power of a well-led team that true leadership shines.


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