Fostering an Ecosystem of Leadership Growth






This blog is a condensed summary of the article Better Pond, Bigger Fish published by Deloitte University Press.

If your leaders are immersed in a workplace that does not support their formal leadership development efforts, returns on leadership programs will likely be limited. Our recent global study[1] reveals that while less mature companies tend to purely focus on formal leadership programs, the most mature organizations embed leadership growth into their daily work processes. They focus on the cul­ture and design aspects of their organization in a way that enhances business outcomes and re­sults in a higher percentage of leaders with crit­ical leadership capabilities. At the same time, compared to their less mature counter parts, organizations that are characterized by high leadership maturity report[2]:

  • A 37 percent higher revenue per employee
  • A 9 percent higher gross profit margin

They also are[3]:

  • 5 times more likely to be highly effective at anticipating and responding to change
  • 10 times more likely to be highly effective at identifying and developing leaders

Practices to Reinforce Culture and Context for Leader Growth

Communicating the leadership profile: Regardless of the behavioral variability entailing different roles, companies should have a clear understanding of capabilities, behaviors, and attributes of a successful leader in the organization. It’s also important to define what the company stands for, and specify which capabilities enable leaders to execute the busi­ness strategy. Often neglected in less mature com­panies, talking about the organization’s “lead­ership profile” is essential for laying the groundwork for leadership development. Companies that effectively communicate their desired leadership profile are five times more likely to excel at identifying and develop­ing leaders.

Many organizations have carefully crafted leadership competency profiles—but relatively few leaders actually know or use them. Worse, many com­panies cannot effectively measure against them. An antidote is to consistently and explicitly promote your company’s view of what effective leadership looks like.

Fostering a ‘risk-taking’ climate: Most mature companies encourage risk-taking to grow lead­ership capability. However, risk-taking endeavors can be nipped in the bud rather quickly in a risk-intolerant cul­ture where others frown upon developing and acting on new concepts and ideas. Our data suggest that many organizations struggle with creating a culture that values risk-taking, but those that enable it are five times more likely to anticipate change and respond to it effectively and efficiently, and seven times more likely to innovate than others that do not. Thus, it is important to nurture an ecosystem that allows and encourages the exploration of new concepts and ideas on a daily basis. Fos­tering an ecosystem of “experimenting” behaviors as part of organizational culture creates a breeding ground for supe­rior leadership capabilities.

The ability to assess and take appropri­ate risks may be a personality trait associated with leadership potential. An individual’s ability to express this trait, however, is influenced by the level of risk tolerance in the work environ­ment.

Using knowledge-sharing for leader development: Free exchange of knowledge is one of the core aspects of creating an ecosystem of leadership development. An average of 41 percent mature organizations always or frequently do it, as against 35 percent less mature organizations that never do it. Knowledge-sharing is vital for effective leadership development. It gives both leaders and employees broader exposure to what is percolating in the organization and broader market, and reinforces desirable leadership be­haviors that align with the prevailing strategy and culture. Moreover, sharing information about new products and services, personnel decisions, or client feedback in other business units helps develop a deeper understanding of the business itself. We found that companies with effective knowledge-sharing practices are four times more likely to improve processes to increase efficiency than those that don’t em­phasize this practice.

Exposing leaders to other leaders, new contexts, and novel challenges: Exposure to peers and colleagues, as well as to consumer feedback, new external contexts, and social networks is a highly effec­tive learning method for leadership development. Coaching and mentoring are common ways to expose high-potentials to diverse challenges and solutions. Creating leadership consortiums, externships, and immersion labs are other ways to help leaders in your organization gain external exposure to the needs of clients and partners. Exposure is how leaders learn most effectively, because exposure is what enables them to gather intelligence from peers and colleagues in the relevant business context.

Creating strong ties between HR and business leaders: HR leaders in mature organizations are not the “learning people” but, instead, strategic partners with business leaders. Disconnect between your HR and business lead­ers should be seen as a sign of lack of accountability for and misalignment of leadership growth efforts. The most mature companies create a sym­biosis in which HR uses its expertise in lead­ership development to collaborate closely with business leaders, who apply and model leadership learning in the workplace. Strong collab­orative relationships between HR and business leaders are six times more likely to excel at identifying and developing leaders.

Summing up

Up until now, companies have focused primarily on training programs, but many have neglected the environment in which leaders perform and grow. However, you are more likely to grow a strong leadership and achieve stronger business results if you foster an ecosystem conducive to leadership growth.

Read the original article to learn the action step checklist to develop an effective ecosystem for leadership development.

A big Thank You also goes to Pallavi Sharma, who summarized the main report for this article.

[1] All data points mentioned in this article are based on High-Impact Leadership: The New Leadership Maturity Model, Bersin by Deloitte/Andrea Derler, Ph.D. 2016

[2] For this analysis, we identified organizations in our sample that are publicly traded and gathered 22 of their objective financial metrics. To minimize the effects of nonrecurring financial impacts, we identified the relevant data for 2013, 2014, and 2015; we then developed a three-year average that formed the basis for subsequent analyses. These two metrics showed a statistical difference between low and high maturity levels for the overall sample at a minimum 95 percent confidence level.

[3] We relied on the self-reported data from survey respondents and have reported findings that are significant at the 99 percent confidence interval. These outcomes are based on questions regarding the extent to which the respondents assess their organization’s performance on business and talent outcomes.


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Copyright © 2017 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.

Andrea Derler

Leadership & Succession Research Leader / Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Andrea leads Bersin’s research execution team and also serves as leadership and succession management research leader for Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. Focused on the continued evolution of Bersin’s research capabilities, her expertise lies in research on business leadership, leadership development and learning, and related talent topics. Her work about leaders’ ideal employee received widespread media attention in Europe and has been published in the journal Leadership & Organization Development. Andrea has a doctoral degree in economics (leadership and organization) from the FernUniversity Hagen (Germany) and a master’s degree in philosophy from the Karl-Franzens-University in Graz (Austria).

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