There was a time not so long ago when the concept of leadership development within an organization was all about developing an emerging leader’s professional skills and competencies.

How could they drive results and better align their teams with organizational objectives? How could they more effectively develop strategic insights to drive greater efficiencies? How could they skillfully cultivate innovation to drive new product offerings?

Times have changed.

According to Shelley Robbins, PhD, senior faculty chair of masters programs in business at Capella University, organizations that want to retain and attract the best talent are increasingly focused on expanding their leadership development models. She says progressive companies are embracing the concept of supporting the “whole” employee and fostering cultures where staff can bring their authentic selves to work. 

“We’re finding ourselves in a different world today,” Robbins says. “In the last several years, as more millennials have joined the workforce and positions have become harder to fill, there has been a shift in how companies are approaching leadership development. More and more of them are taking a full-person view when it comes to employee development. The emphasis is not only on leading and managing others, but also on leading one’s self.

“The premise behind this shift is that employees increasingly want to feel that they are not only contributing professionally at work, but also that their workplace is aligned with personal and social values. Companies are giving employees time to volunteer in the community, as well as develop their ability to be present, focused, and attentive as leaders. As a result, you are seeing more yoga classes, more meditation, and simply more time and space for deep reflection among employees. That just didn’t happen in the past.”  

Robbins, who participated in a panel on this topic at the BetterUp Shift conference in October 2018 adds, “Organizations are hungry for talent, and how we define talent is very different than it used to be. Developing the whole person means a focus on helping people thrive at work through finding purpose, developing a growth mindset, and becoming more mindful of interpersonal situations.”

Robbins provides the following advice for organizations looking to develop a culture and a leadership development philosophy that embraces the concept of supporting and enabling employees:

Have a vision and be bold – Robbins advises organizations to ask themselves: what does the future look like when it comes to leadership development? What are our talent needs? What are we doing about it now? What’s working? What’s not? “Organizations really need to take a hard look and what they’ve been doing and where they want to go,” Robbins adds. “This takes courage and often a fundamentally new way of thinking.”

Align on the “why” – Particularly for those leaders who may be reluctant to embrace the concept of developing the whole person, it is important to identify the “why,” Robbins explains. Why are we doing this? To what end? Ultimately, it’s about attracting and engaging top talent, which Robbins says virtually every leader can appreciate. It’s about helping employees be more effective at what they do. That is more likely to happen when they are engaged, focused, and thriving.

“Leaders need to understand and believe that it is who their employees are as people that is important,” Robbins says. “They are not just a ‘tool’ or a ‘resource.’ Rather, talent is what makes the organization what it is and how it shows up in the marketplace. It used to be that leadership development was only for top leaders. For progressive organizations, leadership development is now for everyone.”

Build the culture from the ground up – To build a truly people-first leadership development culture, it is critical to engage and listen to employees early on and throughout the process. What do they want? What would help them feel more balanced and happy at work? Just how stressed are they? What are the specific tools or resources that could improve their workplace well-being? It is important to solve for those issues at the local employee level, Robbins says.

“The bottom line is this: both leaders and front-line employees need to know they can thrive and be happy at work,” Robbins concludes. “That shouldn’t be an emotion that is reserved for after you get home. People need to find meaning at work and be able to bring their strengths to the workplace.  It’s simply good business to develop employees holistically.”

Learn more about Capella’s MBA program which places an emphasis on leadership development and offers personalized coaching for students.

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