Does your organisation use ‘complementary leadership’?

HR leaders should create an environment built on complementary leadership, according to new research

Does your organisation use ‘complementary leadership’?

Leaders today have more responsibilities than ever, but are ill-equipped to take on their expanded roles, according to Sari Wilde, managing vice president in the Gartner HR practice.

“We are seeing organisations overhaul their leadership models, hoping the right combination of competencies will enable leaders to tackle their growing responsibilities,” added Wilde.

“Unfortunately, relying on leadership models alone isn’t enough.”

According to a global survey of 4,000 employees by Gartner, only 50% of employees agree that their team leader effectively creates a vision for the future of the team.

The research found leaders are having a “crisis of confidence in themselves” with only half of more than 2,800 surveyed reporting they are well-equipped to lead their organisation in the future.

The research also reveals that rather than focusing on leadership models, HR leaders should create an environment built on “complementary leadership”.

That is, the intentional partnership between one leader and one or many leader partners to share leadership responsibilities based on complementary skillsets.

Why? Complementary leadership can provide a big boost to leaders’ performance, according to the Gartner analysis. It showed leaders who use complementary leadership saw a 60% increase in their teams’ performance and a 40% increase in their own performance.

“Our research found that leaders are not always best-positioned to manage every responsibility they are tasked with; instead, the best leaders identify others who have a stronger grasp of skills at which they are weak and share responsibilities with them,” said Wilde.

To enable complementary leadership, HR leaders should focus on the following questions:

  1. How do we help leaders focus on the right capabilities?
  2. How do we get leaders to change their behaviours?
  3. How do we fill leaders’ urgent capability gaps quickly?

READ MORE: Leadership development: Mission Impossible?

Equip leaders to identify their locally relevant gaps, not universal needs
Leaders need to know their current level of skills proficiency so they can prioritise what they need to develop and where they need help, according to Gartner.

Leadership assessments today can be misleading because they don’t include the right inputs and prioritise results based on the wrong metrics.

Rather than evaluating leaders against organisation-wide metrics that are too broad, leaders should focus on identifying locally relevant development priorities.

“To do this, leaders should focus on sourcing development priorities from their teams, which will enable employees and leaders to coalesce around a shared set of priorities in service of the team,” said Wilde.

“Additionally, specific context must be factored into assessments of capability needs and performance potential.

“This enables a better understanding of how leaders are positioned to perform within the specific challenges and needs of their business unit and/or function.”

READ MORE: Do you have the leadership gene?

Develop leaders for practical application, not personal transformation
Many leadership development programs last only a few days and aim to completely transform leaders’ approach to their role.

Often, leaders struggle to apply a drastic transformation once they return to their desks.

A better approach centres around integrating leaders’ workflows and priorities into development programs to enable leaders to apply their learning in context. HR should start by determining two things:

  • What work processes and frameworks are leaders comfortable with?
  • How can HR leaders adapt these processes to develop leaders?

Aligning development programs with leaders’ day-to-day reality helps leaders understand how they can use new skills in their current role.

Create leader partnerships, not just better individual leaders
HR leaders can serve as the catalyst to help leaders identify and make the most of partnerships.

Rather than waiting for individual leaders to develop all the necessary skills, HR must help them find the right partners to share their responsibilities, particularly in the face of filling urgent skill needs.

These leader partnerships allow each leader to specialise in core skills, develop needed skills and lead in critical areas. This type of partnering can increase leaders’ skill preparedness by 54%, according to Gartner.

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