Developing outstanding leadership

Newsletter articles

1 Jul 2011

HR Insight Issue 13

Penny Tamkin, Associate Director

Penny TamkinIncreasingly we are understanding the important role leaders play in organisational performance; through various direct and indirect routes they affect those working in the organisation and ultimately the performance of the organisation as a whole. Recent research on management practices demonstrates a strong link between management practices and organisational productivity, and other studies exploring the impact of management and leadership from a host of different angles also point to the critical role played by managers in achieving productivity and performance improvements within high-performance work systems.

A growing area of interest is the crucial role of the manager in motivating staff. A series of studies have found that employee attitudes both towards the job and towards the employer emerged as key factors associated with customer attitudes and, in turn, with business results. The line manager emerged as a key link in this chain.

However, these studies that demonstrate significant links between leaders, managers and performance are a world away from helping organisations understand how they can develop better management capability. They tell us that managers appear to be critically bound to organisational performance but they don’t tell us how. Those models and approaches which purport to state how leaders should behave are rarely linked to performance outcomes. So on the one hand we have research which stresses the critical importance of leaders, but which is light on the detail of how leaders should act, and on the other we have a vast literature which tells us how leaders should behave but which does not tell us enough about why. A recent exception is the work on outstanding leadership which has explored the ways in which leaders both think and behave that are linked to exceptional performance. This large scale study has focused on those capabilities that differentiate exceptional leaders from good, and is the largest study of its kind in the UK. The detailed findings present a clear picture of how exceptional leaders think and act to create high performance in those around them and provide an optimistic view of the possibility of enhancing leadership skills through development.

Further pilot work undertaken by our development associates at The Work Foundation has shown that the qualities of outstanding leadership can be successfully developed. Through our collaborative network of associates we can bring these insights to organisations, working with them to assess and develop their own leadership capability.

You can hear more about this work and its application at our open event on 28th July, or contact Penny Tamkin for more information.