How to Develop Leadership Qualities for a High Performing Team
The 4 ways you can develop the leadership qualities and behaviours that build a high performing team in high-growth businesses.
By: Leadership Dynamics team
At Leadership Dynamics, we study the leadership qualities of high performing senior teams so we can help high-growth businesses build effective C-suites to realise their value creation plans. There are two ways to build successful teams:
Hire in a fully developed candidate
Develop high-potential employees
Developing leadership qualities takes time, so the simpler option is to hire people who already have the qualities of a good leader; but that's not always possible. To build a high performing team internally, we recommend a combination of nature and nurture. Identifying those who are naturally aligned with your company culture and nurturing their potential.
In a previous article, The Top 6 Leadership Qualities for High-Growth Companies, we laid out the qualities that are most likely to lead to successful outcomes: leading by example, high self awareness, adapting to challenges, knowing the audience, considering multiple perspectives and a growth mindset.
In this article, we've listed the four key ways you can help your high-potential employees and leaders achieve those qualities and reach the next level of performance.
Identify the qualities needed
Assess future leaders objectively
Make learning and development integral
Create support systems
1. Identify the qualities needed in the leadership team
With high-growth companies, efficiency is key to achieving a value creation plan. Before developing leadership qualities in your individuals, it pays to be targeted. Work out where the gaps are in your leadership team so you know exactly the kind of individual required.
You may already have someone in the leadership team, but they may need support to develop the profile needed for the next stage of the business's evolution. Or you may have someone one or two levels below C-suite who has yet to work in a leadership team, but has the right behaviours and potential that just need some refining.
Building a picture with people analytics
The assessment process of identifying these gaps is a great time to introduce data-driven people analytics. Assessing the dynamics of a team can give you a clear picture of its strengths and weaknesses, and pinpoint the gaps in competencies, experience and behaviours to be filled.
At Leadership Dynamics, we have found behaviours to be better predictors of success than performance history and personality. They tell us what a person is likely to do in a given situation, no matter their experience. So while personality shows us "who they are", behaviours tell us "how they act".
Once you know the behavioural profiles of your leaders, you can start to see how those behaviours complement one another and therefore see how well the team will work together. Diversity is key here so that you can have a sufficient level of similarity between individuals so that they have aligned ways of approaching problems, but not too similar so that they cannot bring in different perspectives.
People analytics tools can dive deeper to see what role requires which mix of leadership qualities.
2. Assess future leaders objectively
Looking internally for high-potential employees and readying them for leadership is an efficient way to plug the gaps in case there is a need for change at the top. Whether it's part of a value creation plan to transform a team, or if there is an unplanned exit in the C-suite, you will always have someone ready to take the reins. This is all part of good succession planning.
It's critical to have the right person in the role, so promotions cannot be based only on gut feel, personality or length of service – especially in private equity, where placing the wrong leader can significantly delay the value creation plan. In fact, an unplanned CEO change will typically add 18 months to an investment timeline.
Personal relationships can get in the way of the interests of the business. When these decisions will impact people who might have been with you from the beginning, helping grow the business to get to this stage, and may even consider friends, it's tempting to not take any action or approach difficult conversations. To remove emotion from the equation, it's best to make your selections as objective as possible, using data to frame the ideal future.
People analytics tools can hold a mirror up to a leadership team, by laying out the cold hard facts: what leadership qualities are required, who has them, and who has the potential to develop them.
3. Make time for learning and development
When someone is elevated to a leadership role for the first time, they can often find themselves unprepared for the new responsibilities that their expanded role brings. Many are promoted based on their technical ability to get results, but that does not automatically qualify someone for management. Leaders are leaders of people not products and services.
Training somebody to become a leader takes time, and the earlier you start identifying the high-potential employees, the earlier you can begin learning and development (L&D). As these individuals rise through the ranks, their time becomes more and more limited, with added responsibility, and must balance focus between immediate and long-term business needs. The result: the long-term success of a leadership team is put at risk because new leaders are not as prepared as they could be to tackle unforeseen challenges.
By making L&D an integral part of your leadership development and succession planning you can always have the most qualified people in position to uphold the value creation plan.
4. Create support systems for leadership development
For leaders to develop the qualities their role requires of them, the process will be faster and more effective if there are systems of support behind them. These systems can include a mix of appraisal support via honest feedback, information support via learning materials and coaching, and emotional support via networking and wellbeing. We recommend some of the following practical applications.
Appraisal support is effective in the form of regular feedback sessions from colleagues and leaders. They are key to instilling self awareness in your future leaders, which is one of the top leadership qualities for high-performing teams.
Emerging leaders with high self-awareness will understand their strengths and weaknesses, and will be aware of the qualities and behaviours they need to develop in order to be prepared for leadership.
They will close the gap between how they see themselves and how others see them.
Increase a leader's self-insight by giving them access to self-assessment tools.
Just as we saw in step 2 "identify future leaders objectively", assessing behaviours is a way to put a mirror up to the individual without the cognitive bias. This is an objective way of complementing feedback sessions to build a strong picture of the self.
By using data-led tools, you can also maintain a clear history of each leader's journey of development, offering insights you can use with other future leaders.
Coaching and mentorship
Learning and development is best served by the people currently practising what they teach.
While e-learning and seminars are essential tools for development, giving the employee the opportunity to ask questions of someone in leadership, who might even currently occupy their future role is valuable because it is highly specific to the needs of the business.
Linking potential leaders with more experienced experts – whether through introductions or by creating a culture of access and approachability – will give them targeted and actionable guidance.
You can improve a leader's resilience by supporting their emotional wellbeing and decreasing the risk of burnout, which would impact morale and add delays to the value creation plan.
Nurturing relationships at work is an indirect way of building that resilience. Enable employees to establish valuable connections within the company through networking and community building initiatives.
With hybrid and remote working, the impromptu and informal meetings that build culture in an office are more difficult to engineer. Which makes a thought out strategy for fostering those relationships more necessary. An HR team can support strong relationship building by organising meet ups, events and offsites, so like-minded future leaders can get to know and learn from one another.
How leadership development fits with your strategy
Whether you are in a large cap company with multiple lines of reporting or a founder-led high growth start up, identifying your future leaders early on means you can start developing individuals and engineer the culture of the team and the wider business.
Identifying those leaders and assessing the team as a whole will show you where high-performance behaviours need developing. Only then can you institute L&D as a pillar of your culture and create systems of support to achieve the most effective teams possible.