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Leadership Development Frameworks: Definition, Benefits & Guidance for Design

June 13, 2022

Leadership Development Framework

Great leadership is crucial to the success of any organization. The problem, however, is that there is no blueprint for what great leadership looks like. It differs from company to company. 

Which means that you need to be able to define what it is you expect from the leaders across your own organization—the leadership competencies they must possess and the behaviors they must display, in order to help you execute on your vision, your goals, and the culture you’re trying to build.  

This is where a leadership development framework comes in. 

In this article, we’ll explore what a leadership development framework is, why it’s an important step in developing the capabilities of your leaders, and how you can get started designing one.

Leadership Development Framework

What is a leadership development framework?

A leadership development framework describes what leadership should look like within an organization. It can be thought of as a set of principles that define the way in which a manager should lead their teams, as well as the competencies and skills they should possess.  

When it comes to defining this leadership framework though, there’s no one-size fits all approach. Instead, this framework needs to be aligned with your strategy and the culture you’re trying to create. 

But what do we mean by that?

Well, as an example, a global enterprise may require their leaders to manage cross-cultural diversity and be strategic thinkers. On the other hand, a scale-up may be more focused on their leaders being data-driven and people-driven. 

So, why’s it so important to have a leadership framework?

Well, organizations without one will have inconsistent management styles across the board. And the consequences of this can be detrimental—mistrust, lack of productivity, employee disengagement, resentment, a lack of psychological safety, and even low employee retention rates.

It’s therefore crucial that you have a unified view of what leadership looks like in your organization. Amazon’s leadership principles, for example, underpin everything they do as a company, from their approach to performance management, to their hiring process, right through to developing their next generation of leaders

Benefits of having a leadership development framework

There are a number of benefits to developing a leadership framework, not only to the organization itself, but also to your managers and employees. 

With a clear framework, managers, for example, will have:

  • Greater clarity on what is expected of them as a manager.
  • Understanding how to establish working relationships with peers and direct reports.
  • A set of principles for managing in a way that builds trust and achieves better results.

Organizations, on the other hand, can expect to see:

  • An enhanced company culture built on trust.
  • A common language to describe leadership.
  • Succession planning, making it easier to develop the next generation of leaders.
  • Better retention and engagement amongst employees.
  • Better performance outcomes.
  • Leadership practices to solve people management challenges.

Designing a leadership development framework

Undertake a leadership needs analysis

Despite the leadership development market being worth an estimated $366 Billion, there is a fundamental absence of any sort of science or structure for identifying the specific leadership competencies and behaviors that are likely to have a positive impact on organizational performance. 

This lack of a blueprint can make the process of analyzing leadership needs a complex one. But to help you get started, we have outlined some key things that should be considered when analyzing your leadership needs:

  • Context is king

The kind of leadership framework that you develop will depend entirely on your context. The requirements for a multinational organization with tens of thousands of employees, for example, will be different from a scale-up organization. 

As a general rule of thumb, we would recommend that as soon as you have half a dozen managers, you should have a basic model in place that establishes how you expect your managers to lead. Without this, you risk a lack of consistency of practice amongst your leaders. 

  • Focus on your end goal

By focusing on what you want to achieve—and the culture you want to build—you can start creating a framework that will help you achieve your desired objectives. 

Your approach to leadership should also be anchored to your organization’s vision or purpose

  • Identify the desired leadership competencies 

What are the qualities, skills and behaviors your leaders must possess in order to achieve your desired company culture and to ultimately meet your organizational goals? 

It’s best to keep it simple. Organizations rarely get the best from complex frameworks, with nested extremely detailed competency models that are often out of date as soon as they are created. 

  • Provide regular feedback against the leadership model

Assessments can shine a light on the strengths and limitations of your leaders, further highlighting the skills and behaviors that your leaders should be adopting. It’s useful to think of an assessment as an ongoing process rather than a one-off review. 

Ultimately, you want to create a culture of feedback, where leaders are regularly given open constructive feedback as to how well they are developing the desired leadership competencies.  

Only once you’ve defined what you expect from your leaders, can you develop leadership programs that will help you get the very best from your managers and those they lead.

Choosing a model that's aligned to your strategy

We’ve already touched on the fact that there is no one-size fits all leadership framework, but what we’ve not yet mentioned is that there are over 100 defined models. These models tend to have different key drivers including: 

  • Theoretical models: Models derived from scholarly research that propose an ideal of what a leader is, or should be.
  • Competency-based models: The models built on a selection of underlying competencies and skills. 
  • Values-based models: The models built on a selection of underlying values and behaviors.
  • Purpose-based models: These models tend to focus on the role of leadership in pursuit of a purpose. Increasingly this purpose is beyond pure profit. 

The outcomes of your leadership needs analysis will help you determine the leadership model that’s right for you. Many frameworks include multiple attributes (including skills, competencies and practices), enabling more effective leadership. It is often indicated that the right approach to leadership will depend on the specific situation or context. 

While it’s important to get the model right, too many organizations spend too much time obsessing over the theory, and not enough time bringing it to life. 

Use this framework to underpin your leadership programs

Once you have built a framework that outlines the essential leadership competencies you require, you can determine the appropriate leadership programs that will address the development needs in your organization. 

At Saberr we offer cohort based programs that are underpinned by technology to help establish new routines and habits. You can read more about our Leadership Development programs here

Ultimately, the way we work varies client by client, and all of our programs are entirely bespoke. As an example:

  • We work with a FTSE 100 Bank to deliver a core part of their leadership development framework—leading their teams. In many companies, this is often an afterthought, despite the fact that work often happens in teams. 

  • We also work with scale-ups, providing end-to-end leadership programs, starting with defining their framework, and then implementing it, with a program to suit their needs and budget. 

Whether you are considering establishing a leadership framework from scratch, redefining the one that you already have, or are looking for support in bringing all or parts of your existing leadership framework to life, we’d love to help. 

Book in for a chat with us here, or if you're not yet ready to talk, why not learn more about our approach to leadership development.

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