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Leadership Development is a Significant Issue for Top Management

In the 21st century changes are occurring at a fast rate. This has something to do with technology and the speed at which people can access information as well as communicate to each other. Rules and standard operating procedures are changing. It is now even possible to buy groceries from the comfort of ones own home and expect the same goods to be delivered in ones doorsteps. But even with these overwhelming changes there are a few things that will remain and one of these is the importance of leadership to the success of the organization. To continually enjoy the benefits of an able leader, the organization’s top management had to continually find ways to improve upon their current leadership development program – a goal that is difficult to achieve and most of the time challenging to implement.

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In order not to digress, there will be an overview of some of the recent ideas about leadership development, Human Resource Development and even techniques on employee/staff training but all of these will be used to study two United Nations Agencies just so to narrow the focus of the study. And these two UN agencies are: a) United Nations Development Programmed (UNDP) and b) United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In the course of finding evidence to prove or disprove the idea that leadership development is a significant issue in top management, the proponent of this study discovered three things and enumerated as follow:

Effective leaders are developed within the organization;
There are now significant changes in the area of Human Resource Development, Leadership Training, and Learning and Development as it pertains to organizations; and finally
Breakthroughs in Information Technology are changing the way top management is redesigning leadership development methodologies.
What is Leadership?

Before going any further it is imperative to get a basic understanding of what leadership is all about. In fact, there is great importance in proving that not only is leadership an important ingredient in any organization’s success but also that it is the lifeblood of the group without which an organization will become ineffective and become obsolete.

This is because, leadership is an attributional and a personal talent that is about inspiring people to pool their efforts together towards achieving common goals and objectives (Rosenbach and Taylor, 1998, 1). A Leaders empowers individuals and encourages them to overcome their rank and position within the organization to associate themselves and their colleagues with specific works, duties and responsibilities by setting directions, building commitment and taking challenges (Day and Halpin, 2004, 3). The most important aspect of a leader is his ability to command implicit faith, confidence, and respect of his followers, irrespective of his position and power in the organization.

The attributes mentioned above comes in stark contrast to the role of a manager. A manager may remain as a mere functional entity in the organization whose duties primarily concern with maintenance of procedures and protocols and his main goal is to ensure that the goals and objectives set previously are being met in a timely manner. In other words if a manager is left on his own then one can be assured that there will be no innovation that will help the company surpass its current capabilities and will find it impossible to beat the competition.

However, it is possible to imbue leadership qualities to managers but it will take time, effort and the use of the organizations precious resources. But it will be worth the cost as managers are transformed into effective leaders they will motivate the employees by setting personal examples and rise above the role of a typical manager that inspires employees to achieve excellence.

A manager who has now grown into a leader will be able to make decisions that are quite unconventional, innovative and decisive enough to make one on the spot to immediately resolve a deadlock, while a typical manager will first have to go through the tedious process of going through the manual and do everything by the book. What is more frustrating is that if no specific solution can be found through the list of prescribed procedures the said manager will bring the problem to their superiors for guidance and directions. In the process wasting time and money, not to mention discouraging the workforce as problems tend to pile up without getting resolved in quickly.

It is said that a leader is a dealer in hope. Leadership is then about inspiration, motivation, encouragement and direction that inspires people to great feats of accomplishments. However, effective leadership is a very challenging domain as it requires intensive study and commitment not to fall into the trap of simply managing what is little and afraid to grow and reach for the stars.

Looking at the preceding discussion it is now easy to understand the challenge faced by many organizations who desire to rise above mediocrity. They have to fully commit to the idea that time, resources and effort will have to be invested in any leadership development program. Their task is being made complicated by recent findings that show the ineffectiveness of training techniques used in the past especially when viewed using current trends and technologies prevalent in the 21st century. The following pages will explain new discoveries when it comes to learning and development as it relates to leadership development.

Leadership Development

In an increasingly competitive and diversified corporate world, organizations greatly depend on developing leadership talents to maintain their competitive edge.  Multinational companies, with their dual reporting structure, multiple communication networks, numerous levels of responsibilities and time, language and cultural differences are faced with the responsibility of leadership development among their employees to meet multitudes of demands on their limited time and resources (Collins, 2001).

Today the business world realizes that leadership is neither hierarchal nor stratified. As mentioned earlier it is now plain fact that good management should never be mistaken for good leadership. Instead leadership is about inspiring people, empowering individuals, irrespective of their rank and position within the organization to associate themselves and their colleagues with specific works, duties and responsibilities by setting directions, building commitment and taking challenges (Day and Halpin, 2004, 3). It is not surprising then that companies are ready to invest hugely in leadership development program, as a way to distance themselves from the competition.

Strategic Leadership

In an increasingly competitive and diversified corporate world, organizations greatly depend on developing leadership talents to maintain their competitive edge.  Multinational companies, with their dual reporting structure, multiple communication networks, numerous levels of responsibilities and time, language and cultural differences are faced with the responsibility of leadership development among their employees to meet multitudes of demands on their limited time and resources (Collins, 2001).

It is simply not enough to encourage workers and to make it more enjoyable to work in a particular firm there are some high standards that has to be met in order to show that everyone is in the same page so to speak. Michael Poole lists a few of the expected outcomes:

1.      High commitment – employees will be motivated to work with management to bring about positive change.

2.      High competence – employees can take new roles and new jobs as needed there is a positive attitude to continuous learning and development.

3.      Cost effectiveness – the avoidance of losing money brought about the walls erected between employees and management.

4.      Higher congruence – the need to increase common interests between employees and employers (Poole, 2002, 49).

Multiple case studies and numerous examples from almost every quarter of business and public domains have shown that with adequately designed training programs and experience even otherwise ordinary individuals can emerge as successful leaders in their own spheres. Leadership development is considered a two pronged work.  It is suggested coaching and mentoring involves practical and goal focused methods of individual and group learning and behavioral change.

For obtaining most effective results and developing specific leadership skills coaching allows individuals to collaborate in methodologically assessing, understanding and solving the issue before them. It leads them to challenge the existing solution models and explore further possibilities through joint effort and accountability. Mentoring is an essential part of educational program that involves commitment and long term relationship between a senior employee and a junior employee. Senior employees are able to provide guidance and support to the junior colleagues and help in their professional and personal development.

Through a careful selection of objectives and problems, participants are trained on delivering organizational results, communication learning and management and develop general leadership qualities. It benefits participants greatly as it provides them crucial exposure and considerable experience within a short time. Along with these, modern organizations have also adopted the technique of job rotation, so that individuals have widest possible exposure and experience of company’s functional and organizational processes.

However, in the end one must remember that the focus should not be on teaching leadership, and instead to get participants to learn leadership. Every person has a potential to grow as a leader by gaining  knowledge, purpose and experience and apply themselves more  effectively in their personal and professional domains Leadership is not a characteristic that can unfold in isolation. By its definition, it implies establishing coordination, cooperation, collaboration and orientation among the followers to achieve the designated objectives and goals.

Leadership is also synonymous with the equation of power and its affect over the leaders and their followers. The inherent dangers associated with power are that it is a temptation, hard to resist and has potential to become the ultimate goal for a leader from the tool helping to achieve the goals.  Therefore leadership demands that power be shared with others so that it can grow. Leaders gain power from their ability to inspire others (Champy and Nohria, 1999, 165).

Further the modern emerging concept of leadership, using directional and coercive power over the followers is considered as an unethical practice. Instead, today the main goal of leadership is to help the followers discover and grow their inner powers and ability to be part of the process that is designed to bring real change. This reinstating of self pride and confidence among followers earns leaders the willing obedience of people who realize the integrity of the leader in creating a just, legitimate and encouraging environment where they see themselves as valued members and in turn lend their unconditional support to the joint cause under that particular leadership.

Learning and Development

In recent years, experts in the field of human resource development are seeing gradual changes that challenge some of the ingrained practices when it comes to improving skills and knowledge of employees and staff members. The clamor for change was made evident by the willingness of many to even changing the terminologies used in business. According to Rosemary Harrison the “human resource development” label is still in use but many are now expressing their dislike to HRD because it reference people, “…as a resource is felt to be demeaning. Putting people on par with money, materials and equipment creates an impression of development as an essentially unfeeling, even manipulative activity” (2005, p. 5).

The change of labels such as dropping the politically incorrect term, “employee” to the more acceptable “associates” has to do with trying to find ways of increasing participation and involvement of the workers when it comes improving the way the organization works. As a result there is now a consensus among experts that the best term to be used for maximizing the organization’s talent pool would be “learning and development.” According to Harris, “Like HRD, but without the pitfalls associated with that term, it conveys the scope of a process that can extend beyond those who work in the organization” (2005, p. 5). In this way the organization can solicit the inputs made by non-employees such as volunteers, contractual workers and even suppliers, to provide insights into the organization.

Aside from the redefining terminologies, a revolution in learning and development is only achievable if the organization encourages that culture of learning. The top management must continually model an open mind so that workers and employees will not hesitate to take the initiative to solve the problem. According to Buckley and Caple the end result is worth the risk as seen in the following, “…the knowledge and experience that individuals have about their own roles and their own departments … can be drawn upon and put to good use by contributing to the corporate vision, objectives and strategies. Many examples can be found of people in operational roles who have discovered ways of improving procedures that have resulted in an organization saving on money and materials, developing a faster reaction time or producing an improved product or service” (2004, p. 12).

Chief Learning Officer

There is now an increasing trend to create the position of the Chief Learning Officer. In this way the firm is showing their commitment to learning and development within the organization. Philips and Elkeles provided an outline that a company CLO must follow in order to succeed:

·         Business Knowledge – knowledgeable about recent industry trends as well as having a grasp of company strategy and aligning it with appropriate programs to ensure success.

·         Communication – communicating effectively within the organization and can be an advocated of the group as well as the individual.

·         Broad Perspective – be the first to demonstrate an open-mind that welcomes new ideas.

·         Assessment of Skills – able to measure improvement in skills as well as assessing skills (2007, 4).

Factors to Consider

Generally speaking the economic aspect is always a determining factor whether an organization will move forward or not. Since leadership development is usually not a major part of the business operation for most organization it will be almost impossible to divert funds towards a pet project like say developing leaders from within the organization. A weak economy can be felt by organizations that are dependent on donation. For the UNICEF the lack of money can mean the cancellation of some projects. Thus, when the funding dries up, the fledgling leadership program may also wither.

Resources

There is no need to elaborate that an organization will need more than enough resources to develop leaders. Yet, it can be argued that the wealth of the organization is not really the determining factor whether the leadership development program receives a boost or gets knocked out of the picture. It is the way top management views the importance of such a program. But when push comes to shove, projects that will not impact the immediate future of the company usually gets no funding.

This should not be the case with agencies affiliated with the United Nations. And the reason is simple, UN agencies are not selling products and they do not exist for profit. Their main objective is to implement programs and execute solutions that will make the world a better place. If a company that sells whiskey deserves great leaders and will benefit greatly from a leadership development program, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the UNICEF deserve more quality leaders than commercial organizations.

Learning Process

Once that the basic design was already agreed it is time to answer the question with regards to how to go about with learning the necessary skills and knowledge in order for future leaders to lead in their respective agencies. There can be two major ways of improving the organization’s ability to solve problems. The first one is the time-honored use of consultants. In other words the group will hire external help so that they can make sense of their problems. For many this does not make sense at all considering that the outsider will have to spend much time trying to learn the intricacies of the operation and it is not even one hundred percent sure that the expert can fully understand the social and political dynamics within the said organization.

The high cost of hiring external help plus the added uncertainty to the finished presented by the consultants at the end of each evaluation period forced others to find innovative solutions. As a result one firm in Scotland decided to work within the organization and they found out the wisdom of building upon the skills and knowledge within the workforce and their commercial director described what happened:

Our employees provided a wealth of knowledge and experience which was tapped and their help was used to manage the change … this not only saved hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultancy fees, but also provided a large number of employees with a new stimulus and challenge that many enjoyed, working and participating on the various project teams… (see Brockbank, et al., 104).

Another suggestion for the learning process is to move away from the conventional view of HRD which focuses on the individual. In the words of Gold, et al, the focus is on, “…interventions at the level of the individual’s potential to think or act more effectively and usually result from perturbation in the individual or their environment” (2003, 167). More and more HRD practitioners are looking at learning and development processes that involve the whole organization.

Another suggested upgrade to conventional training methods is to add the power of mentoring. John Lorriman in his book that talks about the importance of continuing professional development pointed out the benefits of mentoring as opposed to the usual lecture type training and he said that mentors are expected to:

Facilitate professional development;
Provide positive influence;
Influence colleagues to provide and maximize learning opportunities;
Share experience; and
Provide feedback.
It is difficult to imagine another setting where a junior colleague will be able to receive feedback, guidance, positive influence and different types of learning other than within a mentoring relationship. To improve the success rate for using this method, Lorriman suggests that the mentor should not be the line manager directly responsible for the person being mentored. Lorriman explains that the one being mentored needed someone that he or she can confide to and this is difficult to achieve ones own manager (Lorriman, 1997, 100).

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UNICEF

There is no other United Nations Agency that is as well know as the UNICEF. This UN agency plays an important role in preserving peace in the world through helping children in poverty stricken and war torn countries to grow up as normal as possible and hopefully minimizing the trauma of violence and neglect so that they will not grow with hatred in their hearts. There is no doubt that UNICEF’s longevity is also the sign of its success and yet this UN agency continues to strive to improve and even find ways to apply learning and development principles discussed above. The official website of UNICEF encourages their partners to send their feedback and request them to provide suggestions for them to create a more effective UNICEF.

But the most impressive and perhaps most eye-catching development program is the one that concerns the raising up of young leaders within the nations that UNICEF tried to serve. In their website UNICEF explains, “These young leaders are making a difference in their communities, campaigning in their schools and are key activists for child rights … engaging in ‘inter-generational dialogues’ with adults in key decision-making positions” (2008). This is one of the most impressive leadership development programs in the world today. The only thing that can compare would be sports program that trains children athletes.

UNDP

The United Nations Development Program or UNDP is a global development network that connects countries around the world and rally different people groups and national leaders to peace and progress. According to Bruckner it is the world’s largest global development operation with an unrivaled level of complexity and diversity. And yet he adds, “Today, the UNDP is a results-oriented, knowledge-driven, outward-looking organization, accountable in relationship with development partners and program countries and committed to improving staff capacities as a basis for improving overall performance” (Bruckner, 2004, 282). UNDP’s secret is in its belief in the creation of a learning culture.

Bruckner revealed that it all began in 1998 when they felt the need to align corporate strategy with staff development. And this was realized after decades of using curriculum-based training program delivered through centralized events which produced the following outcomes:

Limited and short sighted results
Served only a small percentage of UNDP staff
Promoted reliance on a small cadre of experts
Did not stimulate innovation and creative thinking
It was expensive (Bruckner, 2004, 284).
It is interesting to note that the UNDP did not throw everything out of the window as seen in the discussion above. The UNDP still believes in individual training but the difference is that this agency included the group, organization, and society as a source of learning and became part of their learning process. The UNDP and the UNICEF can afford to develop cutting-edge training methodologies because there is another agency that is supporting them from within the UN and it is called the UN System Staff College (UNSSC).

UNSCC

The UNSSC focuses on:

1.      providing training and learning services to UN staff members;

2.      delivering management solutions;

3.      supporting interagency collaboration;

4.      promoting good management practices throughout the UN system (Alger, 2006, 86).

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The UNSSC strives to 1) promote positive change in the UN system within the context of ongoing UN reform; and 2) enhance expertise in the area of learning (see UNSSC.org). And because of these goals the UNSSC proposes to:

1.    Purchase of commercially available Re-useable Learning Object Repository (LOR) Software to classify and store learning materials from agencies and make these available other agencies. A LOR has the ability to take any kind of electronic material (text, video, power point, audio, images etc) either in its entirety or broken down into the component parts and store it with associated meta data which describes the object and its properties so that it can easily be retrieved, adapted and reused.

2.    The UNSSC would purchase the LOR on behalf of all UN Agencies, gather learning materials, chunk them into their component parts and make them available for reuse by the UN Learning Community. Under this project we would research and document what each agency is doing in the realm of management and leadership training and development. This would be done through face to face contact, an on-line survey to gather quantitative data, document and internet reviews.

3.    The UNSSC already provides a range of advisory services to UN agencies. Our expertise is primarily related to learning, but we have developed expertise in a number of other areas such as Results Based Management, Team Development, Monitoring and Evaluation, Partnership Building and other a number of other areas.
We have also become a logical clearing house for learning consultants and manage a consultants database for the UN Learning Community. It is critical that we do not spread our advisory service function too broadly as we do not have the staff resources to cover too many areas and we can not afford to be a “Jack of all trades”.

Conclusion

Individuals can work independent of a team or team leader, but will never experience the same level of success that they would achieve when working together as one single unit. Ordinary people can achieve the impossible if there is a leader that will help them to set aside their differences and instead to focus on accomplishing for their respective group or organization. Everyone knows the benefits of good leadership but the sad reality is that there is not enough leaders to help make this world a better place.

The simple explanation is that there are only a few organizations in the world that has an effective leadership development program. Now, everyone is scrambling to find develop their own program, hoping to develop leaders that will revive the competitive passion of the firm and to lead the group to break-away from the pack. It is becoming clearer that top management are indeed focusing on leadership development as evidenced by the recent trends in human resource development, staff/employee training etc.

One of the major issues that were tacked in this paper was the relation between Learning and Development, Leadership Development, Human Resource Development, and current trends in staff/employee training. It was made clear from the previous discussion that even if the organization’s top management is determined to provide a leadership development program the same will have to fully understand recent developments in the area of corporate learning and training. Aside from significant scholarly work generated from intense interest on the subject matter, the challenge to integrate everything is made more difficult by breakthroughs in technology that made previous methodologies obsolete.

As mentioned earlier there is now a great need to closely monitor systems that will provide learning and training to worker as well as future leaders knowing fully well that these methodologies can be duplicated especially in a complex organization such as the United Nations. But the UNDP and the UNICEF has shown its commitment to look for the best learning process and the best techniques that will improve their service to all humanity.

There are only a few organizations with the same level of complexity and diversity as the UNDP and UNICEF who continue to show their commitment to develop a culture of learning. Their impressive programs are a testament to practicality of shifting from traditional views of HR development and even leadership development that calls for centrally planned activities. It has been shown that not only are the old techniques obsolete and produced limited results, these old programs are also expensive requiring high salaried experts that can only serve a few staff members.

Moreover, the shift from the old to the new was a great fit for UN Agencies especially the UNDP and the UNICEF where its leaders and staff members are continually challenged by complexity of a global program while at the same can be bogged down by the intricacies of different cultures and languages. It is therefore fitting to these agencies to adopt learning and development processes that will help them produce effective leaders in a shorter span of time and at the same time develop reliable staff members who will support the new leaders being sent to the field.
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