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Leadership research and theory
LDC research and articles
Find out about important research and information on leading in today's environment — to help you lead in a dynamic and courageous way.
What is talent management? Where do you start? Read LDC's paper to find out how you can build your talent management capability.
LDC White Paper: The struggle to lead strategically in the public sector
LDC White Paper: Digital Stewardship of the system
LDC Fellowship research
Research and presentations from recipients of the Leadership Development Centre Fellowships.
LDC's digital leadership research has been written to generate discussion around what it means to be a public sector leader in the digital age. We're particularly focused on exploring digital leadership because the emphasis on 'Digital Strategy' is just as much about people as it is about technology.
A digital-age approach to leadership: build trust and seek multiple perspectives
This article highlights the trends we are noticing in global research, presents a case study from a team that is working to keep our borders safe and provides some tips for your own leadership practice – specifically in relation to building trust, asking the right questions and gaining multiple perspectives. Read the full article.
Collaborative leadership in the public sector − breaking the silos: Research from MBA graduate, Ben Fitchett
Ben Fitchett completed a major piece of research looking at collaborative leadership in the New Zealand public sector, as part of his MBA through Henley Business School, University of Reading, United Kingdom. Ben drew his subjects from LDC's alumni and interviewed tier 2 and 3 public sector leaders with experience leading major initiatives to gain their reflections on how state sector agencies collaborate.
Developing leadership for business transformation: LDC paper
LDC's analysis of senior leader individual development plans and the LDC's Assessment for Development outcomes showed the attributes that enable the leadership of business transformation were common development priorities for senior public servants. Successful business transformation requires leaders who are effective in six key areas: strategic alignment, customer centricity, leading teams, operational excellence, personal leadership and system mind set. This means leaders need exposure to and development in these aspects.
In response, LDC drew together research and leading practice into practical advice on the best experiential development options for the components of leading change.
Ministry of Women's Affairs resource: Inspiring action - action plans and research to help you attract and retain talented women
This Ministry of Women's Affairs resource is a quick reference to abstracts that explain ways to improve women's career paths within their company or organisation. It includes 117 referenced items, in seven topic areas. Each article or report has a brief summary with a website link, where available, to the full report or article.
The Ministry hopes this resource, which includes information about New Zealand, will make it easier for human resources practitioners and managers, chief executives and leadership teams to identify practical steps that they can take to improve women's career pathways in their organisation.
In 2013 the Ministry of Women's Affairs released the report 'Realising the opportunity: addressing New Zealand's leadership pipeline by attracting and retaining talented women'. This report drew on a substantial body of international research and evidence to articulate the issues around women's participation in leadership in companies and organisations. To make the evidence widely available to support leaders wishing to take action, the Ministry developed 'Inspiring Action'.
Harvard Business Review
Why strategy execution unravels? and what to do about it
The writers of a Harvard Business Review article found that up to three-quarters of large organisations struggle to implement their strategies. The article explores the five most inaccurately held beliefs held by over 8,000 surveyed managers about how to implement strategy:
Myth 1: Execution equals alignment
Myth 2: Execution means sticking to the plan
Myth 3: Communication equals understanding
Myth 4: A performance culture drives execution
Myth 5: Execution should be driven from the top.
Harvard Business Review research: 10 traits of innovative leaders
Public sector leaders are being challenged to be more innovative and lead innovation teams, but how exactly should you do this? Two Harvard Business Review researchers conducted their own study by looking at the 360-degree feedback survey of 33 individuals who scored at or above the 99th percentile on innovation. Find out what it takes to be a truly innovative leader.
The best presentations are tailored to the audience
The audience, not the presenter, is at the heart of any presentation. The better you understand your audience's goals and concerns, the more likely you are to achieve your objectives and your desired outcomes.
Answer the nine questions about what makes your audience tick, as listed in this article from the Harvard Business Review. This will help you better know your audience and cater your message to their needs.
Stanford Business Insight
Stanford Business insight
Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor of Organizational Behaviour Jeffrey Pfeffer says that the idea of power is difficult for many people to accept. Discover some strategies to get closer to those who have power and build up the important networks that will help you succeed as a leader. "Your job as a leader is to be true to what the situation requires of you."
Research from Stanford University on succession planning and career opportunities for high-potential employees
The secret to a happy collaboration
We're hearing it all the time in the public sector: "We need to collaborate more". It seems simple on the face of it, but when you're already stretched for time and are faced with competing projects and deadlines, it's not simple at all: Who should we collaborate with? What qualities or skills should we look for in potential collaboration partners? Such questions are becoming increasingly familiar for many of us, including Stanford University Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Education Daniel McFarland.
To ensure that he optimised his time and efforts, Daniel decided to research how to create the most effective collaborative partnerships. He discovered that happy collaborators are typically more productive and less likely to look elsewhere for employment. Daniel also discovered a few surprising trends about why we generally select particular colleagues to work with.
The psychology of kindness on the workplace
Emotional contagion - what can you catch from leaders?
Stanford University recently hosted a conference on 'Compassion and Business', where social scientists, business school professors and other experts considered the effect that kindness can have on the workplace.
Of the themes that came through at the conference, one was that caring about your own well-being and caring for the well-being of others are both important elements of people leadership. But putting compassion into practice does take time and energy. Read more about the latest research findings about the psychology of kindness in the workplace.
How guilt can fix problems and be recognised as a sign of leadership
Feeling guilty? It may not be such a bad thing:
Guilt-prone people tend to carry a strong sense of responsibility for others, and that responsibility makes other people see them as leaders, says Becky Schaumberg, a doctoral candidate in organisational behaviour at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
There are many ways of responding to mistakes or other problems, Schaumberg explains, including blaming others and blaming yourself. But the most constructive response, and the one people seem to recognise as a sign of leadership, is to feel guilty enough to want to fix the problem. Read more about the research showing that how people respond to mistakes can be a 'clue to who they are'.
Can potential be more important than achievement?
Talent management and succession planning are currently hot topics in the public sector. Career boards and a greater focus on leadership development are compelling organisations to reconsider their understanding of what success will look like for future leaders - and who those leaders could potentially be. But what has more sway on the decision makers who are making choices about future leaders: achievement or potential?
Stanford University Associate Professor of Marketing Zakary Tormala's research into this topic has produced some interesting results that seem applicable to a broad range of situations - from sporting evaluations through to hiring decisions, potential seems to engender greater interest than achievement. In a practical sense, this means that you're probably more likely to be more persuasive if you frame your future recommendations more in terms of potential and less in terms of achievement.
Employee engagement - new research that could make a difference in your organisation
Professors Nir Halevy, a Stanford Graduate School of Business assistant professor of organisational behaviour, and Yair Berson, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, recently completed a study that suggests employee motivation can be directly influenced by leaders who identify the "psychological distance" between themselves and their audience and then tailor their communication to suit this. Want to know how it's done?
Read this research that shows how keeping your distance, or not, can play a role in your employees' motivation.
Research from Stanford University: Workplace hierarchies - do they still matter?
There is a perception that social media and communication technologies are flattening organisational structures and that hierarchies are becoming less relevant in the work place. This new study by a professor of organisational behaviour (Jeffrey Pfeffer, Thomas D Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business) shows that hierarchies in the workplace do matter.
Insights by Stanford Business: How leaders communicate effectively
Watch this short video to find out how leaders communicate effectively. Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer J.D. Schramm discusses three vital ingredients of effective communication:
- audience research
- a tailored message
- building confidence
How to lead change within your organisation: Short video from Stanford Business
Watch this short video for practical advice on how to lead change within organisations, presented by Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Huggy Rao.
Deloitte's Leadership: Why the perennial issue?
Leadership: Why a perennial issue?
In Deloitte's 2015 survey Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the new world of work, for the third year in a row, leadership soared to become one of the most pressing talent challenges faced by global organisations. So, if nearly every company recognizes leadership as a critical talent problem, why are so few companies making any progress in addressing it?
Leadership gaps - last year's most critical issue - continued to be top of mind for HR and business leaders, 86 per cent of whom cited it as a top issue this year. However, the number of respondents who said this was a 'very important' issue jumped from 38 per cent last year, to 50 per cent this year.
The survey was conducted among more than 3,300 HR and business leaders in 106 countries, and is one of the largest global studies of talent, leadership and HR challenges.
To gain further insights into the report, including detailed information on specific countries or industries, access the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2015 Dashboard dash dash.
Development Dimensions International (DDI)
Strengthening the middle: Global challenges and best practices in mid-level leader assessment and development
This latest research by Development Dimensions International (DDI) and The Institute of Executive Development (IED) shows that, if organisations want to be successful, they must take stock of the current readiness of their mid-level leaders and develop them to meet business needs sooner.
Interviews with 20 talent management executives, representing global companies such as Nokia and IBM helped the researchers create a tool to diagnose an organisation's mid-level approach and to determine next steps so that leaders can help provide the best talent to support the execution of their business strategies.
Given the current emphasis on chief executives and senior leaders prioritising their agency talent management responsibilities, this research is highly relevant.
Find out more in the full research report or read the key themes and findings in the executive summary.
2014 international research must-read no. 1: Ready-now leaders ? meeting tomorrow's business challenges, Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015
What leadership and business challenges will the new year will bring?
Development Dimensions International;s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER) published its global leadership forecast for 2014/2015. If you read just one thing over the summer break, it should be this.
The contents include:
- What's Keeping CEOs up at Night?
- Critical Leadership Skills
- New Role of HR
- What Do Leaders Need in Order to Improve?
- What's Holding Them Back?
Read the Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015.
How to make your next transition a smooth one
Development Dimensions International survey
Development Dimensions International's (DDI's) survey looked at leaders who had recently gone through a professional transition. DDI explored the leaders' biggest challenges, what they wished they had known before the transition and their hindsight reflections about things they would do differently next time.
A few findings
- Transitions are more complex than ever, and now they are also more frequent and circuitous.
- Transitioning leaders continue to struggle with ambiguity.
- Transitions are not created equal; preparing for each level of leadership requires a unique mix of skills.
- Transitioning leaders want more structured development.
- Without choice, quality feedback and clear expectations, transitioning leaders are more likely to quit.
More leadership articles
Reflection is important for today's leaders
See the research below and reflect on the type of leader you are:
When something bad happens you can lie in a puddle and drown OR pick yourself up and land what you set out to do. Everyone - especially leaders - needs resilience. Without it, you stay in the safe zone. That’s not where excellence happens. Read more
Are you an open leader?
This article discusses the changing social and cultural conditions that are giving rise to open leadership. Open leaders quickly discover that leadership is not about the power we exert to influence progress, but the power and confidence we distribute among the members of the organization.
Self-awareness and more effective leadership
A heightened sense of self-awareness helps leaders to understand the impact of their feelings, emotions and actions while also giving them a clear picture of their strengths and development priorities. Gaining this level of insight means that leaders are more capable of relating to and working with others as key levers to successful leadership.
Find out more about the importance of self-awareness in the following two research articles.
1. Illuminating blind spots and hidden strengths, Korn/Ferry Institute research
The Korn/Ferry researchers say it's critical for leaders to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses to reach their potential and avoid derailment.
The study assessed business leaders who rated themselves on 21 positive and 5 negative leadership characteristics. The researchers then compared these self-ratings with those from the leaders' peers, direct reports, customers and bosses. Through the comparison, the researchers identified the specific areas where leaders most often overestimate or underestimate their own skills.
Find out about the leaders' blind spots and hidden strengths and see how you compare.
2. The singular secret for a leader's success: self-awareness, Forbes leadership article
Forbes contributor Jack Zenger says the most important element of self-awareness, especially if you lead an organisation, is a clear understanding of the impact you have on the people around you. And the most valuable self-awareness comes from data that originates with the colleagues you serve. This is the surest way to get objective insight that you can use to become an even more effective manager. Specific skill-building programmes may logically follow; but self-awareness is where the process begins. Read the article and find out about LDC's LSP360° assessment.
Is the best leadership no leadership? Idealog article
Business magazine Idealog digital editor Johnathan Cotton looks at 'holacracy' a self-management business philosophy where companies operate more like cities and less like hierarchies. Read the interview with founder of HR Shop Samantha Gadd, who has adopted the concept of sharing leadership and responsibility across the business. Would this approach work in the public sector?
Leading complex, continuous change: Centre for Creative Leadership white paper
Organisations succeed when leaders recognise the need to change AND are able to implement changes effectively. Unfortunately, knowing that change is needed does not guarantee success in making it happen. Failing at change is all too common.
This latest Centre for Creative Leadership white paper introduces key ideas for leading complex, continuous change, based on the experiences of leaders across a wide range of industries and geographies. It is drawn from the book Leading Continuous Change: Navigating Churn in the Real World. Find out how to get better at change and get better quickly.
Managing the talent pipeline - seven signposts to predict leaders: Korn Ferry Institute paper
How can organisations predict who will become a successful future leader? This recent Korn Ferry Institute paper says that all high-potential leaders are marked by seven essential signposts that indicate their likelihood of future success.
Identifying such high-potential leaders early on, lets an organisation deliberately develop future executives so that when a need arises, someone with the requisite ability is ready to step up to the challenge. This is the only truly proactive way to manage a talent pipeline.
The seven essential signposts that predict performance in future roles are:
- a track record of formative experiences
- the ability to learn from experience
- leadership traits
- the drive to be a leader
- managed derailment risks
Leadership and rewiring your own brain
Why do pragmatic optimists make better leaders? Because, says Dr Fiona Kerr, Visiting Research Fellow at University of Adelaide, they build rich metacognitive skills that they can also engender in those they lead, as long as there:
- is an environment of trust
- a shared understanding of purpose
- and infrastructure that allows people to discover, learn and lead.
Dr Kerr is a systems and neural complexity specialist and her work includes how to transform organisations through innovative collaboration, building creative bureaucracies, and studying how the brains of charismatic leaders are different.
Find out what Dr Kerr has to say about leadership and rewiring your own brain, in this article on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Ideas Network.