Effective leadership has a lot to do with context. Leaders must recognise the challenges within their unique business context, and respond in ways that will work given that context.
Context shapes leaders’ priorities, attitudes and behaviours. In turn, leaders must shape context for those they lead. Context is regularly overlooked in leadership assessment and development.
How can you build context into leadership development?
Define the leadership challenges that will arise as the context changes
Often, it’s a change in the competitive context that triggers a demand to transform leadership capability. In today’s businesses, the sustained pace, complexity, and unpredictability of external change are creating unprecedented pressures on leadership. The right development and support can help leaders to manage this.
However, the really tough challenges arise from the entirely new and unfamiliar.
It is essential to unpick these areas to identify the scale, number and nature of the challenges your leaders will face, and how they may need to respond.
Make context-awareness a leadership capability
Today’s leaders can’t succeed unless they understand how context impacts on them, their organisation and their people – and how to manage it. They need conceptual frameworks – specific to their business – for monitoring context.
They also need the self-awareness to know how context will affect them and how to shift their own behaviour in response. Leaders need to master the levers available for helping their people adapt to changing context – from role-modelling and communicating new values and operating principles to modifying performance management and other behaviour-shaping systems.
Assess leadership performance in light of the context
Leadership assessment, and the development activities that follow, provide rich data about people. Simply using these data for gap analysis, addressing weaknesses and building in entirely new capabilities, is no longer enough. A strength in one context may be a liability in another.
Therefore, the way your leaders are and how they develop must be evaluated in light of contextual imperatives and constraints. This not only tells you about performance relative to what’s needed and possible, it also highlights which aspects of context will have to change if leaders are to shift behaviours and maximise their impact on their people.
Build real context into assessment and development
Assessment and development have most value when they’re rooted in the real world. That means using simulations and practice-based exercises that are directly relevant your business challenges when evaluating leaders, instilling new skillsets, and provoking new insights and mindsets.
Create a work context that encourages and rewards the mindsets and skillsets you’re trying to instil, and change the things in your work environment that discourage or extinguish those ways of thinking and operating.