Desk (2)

The role of the HR function, and in particular the HR director, with regards to leadership development and succession planning has never been greater. According our recent survey, 96% believe the leadership skills required from a high performing team are changing, 86% say a lack of leadership capability is a barrier to growth and the majority admitted they need to improve upon their development and succession processes with few having a clear framework for selecting the next CEO.

In an environment where leaders have to be increasing comfortable with ambiguity and change and where the world outside their organisations continues to encroach on what goes on internally, HR directors have a key responsibility to ensure the skills and capabilities of the c-suite are fit for purpose.

Great leadership

The requirement of leaders, and their senior teams, has shifted significantly over the last few decades. Command and control style leadership has, in most cases, been replaced by a more inclusive, collaborative approach both within the leadership team itself and across the wider organisation with flatter and less hierarchical structures offering individuals greater opportunity to contribute.

This new approach to leadership and culture is clearly playing out in terms of the skills and personality traits which are required from the c-suite. Indeed, they survey revealed that having a common purpose and trust were regarded as the most important characteristics of a high performing leadership team. These were closely followed by collaboration and the ability to offer constructive challenge with technical ability seen as the least important leadership quality.

Additionally, when it comes to collaboration, external reference points are becoming increasingly important and valuable to leaders who recognise that it is impossible to isolate yourself if you want to perform at the highest level. As the HR directors made clear, more progressive CEOs and senior executives recognised the tangible value in forming and maintaining relationships with peers across various industries, sectors and disciplines, focusing on the fundamentals of great leadership rather than operational concerns.

Leadership development

Getting leadership development right is always going to be a challenge. Encouragingly, most CEOs see the need for development with 74% expressing an interest in developing the skills of their executive team. It is also encouraging, bearing in mind the types of skills and traits needed by the c-suite in today’s environment, that experiential learning, executive coaching and external mentoring ranked highest for HR directors, taking priority over external courses or partnering with business schools.

Perhaps the single biggest obstacle when it comes to executive development is ensuring the CEO and the leadership team acknowledge the need. Without this it is always going to be difficult for the HR director to put a framework in place. Worryingly, according to the data almost a third of CEOs does not fully understand the role and impact of HR on the board. With this in mind, it is likely we will begin to see a divide between those organisations who empower their HR directors to strategically develop the board and those who see it as a more functional role.

Planning for the future

In an increasingly complex world, no CEO or HR director can ignore the need to develop their leadership team. The c-suite is going to have to take a broader view on leadership, recognising that they can never know everything and making a conscious decision to seek external reference points outside their immediate networks. Leaders who cannot make this shift in focus, from internal to external, will quickly get left behind and struggle to perform at the highest level.

What the data shows is that leaders would do well to take a leaf from the millennial’s book. Their inherent desire to learn and develop new skills, ability to collaborate effectively and access to wide and varied reference points and networks make millennials a great model for today’s CEOs and c-suite executives. Provided CEOs recognise the invaluable role of their HR director in leadership development, there is no reason Boards cannot hone their skills and achieve their potential individually and as a team.

By Charlie Wagstaff, managing director of executive membership at Criticaleye