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The Step-by-Step Guide to Building Leadership Capability

And Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement

By AcornPublished 4 months ago 4 min read

This article first appeared on Acorn Labs in September 2023.

Leadership capability is the mix of knowledge, skills, tools, processes and behaviors that deliver organizational objectives when combined. Leaders require leadership capabilities to empower effective leadership.

With 94% of employees more likely to stay with a company if they’re offered professional development opportunities, it’s no wonder leadership capability development is important to offer, lest you see increased turnover and stagnant business growth. Succession planning becomes a lot easier once employees possess the leadership capabilities to identify them as emerging leaders in the business.

Building leadership within your organization can help:

  • Drive strategic alignment by creating leaders who can deliver on business goals and strategy.
  • Equip leaders with the communication skills needed to accurately convey strategy to others.
  • Develop business resilience by making employees more efficient in innovation and adaptability to change.
  • Enable better goal setting by leaders.

How to build leadership capability

How you build leadership capability in your organization depends on your business needs. But, there is a six-step process that you can use as a foundation to base your capability development practices on.

Engaging leadership

Your current leadership is essential for getting your development programs off the ground, whether it’s for supporting emerging leaders or current leaders’ own development. Without leadership support, 70% of change programs fail to meet their goals.

Why is this? Leaders are instrumental in securing employee engagement, which impacts learning effectiveness. They should be your first point of call.

You can engage leadership by framing your leadership capability development plan in terms of the key performance indicators (KPIs) and pain points that leaders are most concerned about.

Co-ownership between HR and leadership teams

HR and leaders don’t necessarily have the same immediate focus, and that impacts what both groups are likely to prioritize when it comes to designing and implementing L&D.

When HR is solely responsible for L&D, they’re going to create L&D programs that revolve around the business more, as HR has a deep understanding of business strategy. The issue is that leaders also need to serve the needs of their individual teams, but if leaders are solely responsible, then L&D becomes misaligned from business strategy entirely.

This is why the sweet spot is shared accountability between HR and leadership teams, where both parties have to contribute to the capability building process in order to ensure both functional visions of the business are represented.

Understanding leadership capability gaps

You can measure leadership capability in terms of competency, or proficiency. This is the leveled scale that you measure capabilities against in a capability assessment, measuring whether a capability is performed at a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level.

Think of the beginner level as an individual needing to develop the capability further, and advanced level competence meaning the individual is exceeding expectations. Ideally, you probably want employees to be meeting or exceeding expectations, so this is where you can see the gaps between where your capabilities should be, and where they actually are, allowing you to design L&D programs to address those gaps.

Assessing leadership capability maturity

Capability maturity looks at the leadership capability of the business overall, and can be assessed over time to see how effective leadership capability training has been. There are five levels of capability maturity:

  1. Reactive, where capability is performance is ad hoc, reactive and unpredictable.
  2. Managed, where capability performance is managed project to project.
  3. Defined, where capabilities are managed through organization-wide guidelines.
  4. Qualitative, where business processes and objectives are aligned.
  5. Optimized, where capabilities are optimized to enable long-term organizational transformation.

Methods to build leadership capability

The easiest way to build leadership capability in your organization is to embed learning in the flow of work. So, utilizing a knowledge management system that can be accessed by individuals in the moment of need, or on-the-job training that can provide current and future leaders with experience in relevant leadership capabilities, and implementing capability academies to enable knowledge transfer among employees are all useful ways of building leadership capability.

Tracking progress

Reassessments are key. This means reassessing individuals’ competency as well as business leadership maturity to understand the effectiveness of your leadership training programs.

Being proactive with your training needs analysis (that is, conducting one before and after training) reveals your capability needs and how well gaps have been closed since the last leadership development program.

Using L&D efforts that embed performance management are also useful, such as on-the-job training which creates a continuous feedback loop between supervisors and team members to ensure employees are on the right track in their development.


About the Creator


Impact, not overload™

Acorn PLMS (performance learning management system) is a dynamic AI-powered platform for learning experiences synchronized to business performance at every step. Corporate learning is broken. Acorn is the antidote.

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