Developing new leaders doesn't have to be costly

Valerie Morton offers advice on how to bring the best out in leaders without affecting budgets

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: How can I afford leadership development when our training budget is being cut?

A: First of all, I am delighted that you are concerned about leadership development. While there are some excellent wide-ranging initiatives, the voluntary sector does not, on balance, give the issue the emphasis that the private or public sectors do. I suspect the reason for this is that the private sector can afford to pay, while the public sector has a long-term interest in leadership development beyond the needs of any individual organisation - as in the case of the health sector, for example.

As your question illustrates, investments that have a long-term payback are often those that are cut in order to protect front-line services when charities are facing tough times. My first point, therefore, is a plea to all boards to recognise that the interests of beneficiaries might be best served in the longer term by maintaining investment in activities such as staff development.

That said, I would challenge your assumption that leadership development necessarily requires a training budget. Some development - for example, people management, project management or technical skills - often rely on budgets for learning tools such as training courses. Leadership, however, is about influence and inspiration - attributes that are valuable at all levels, not just among senior managers. Of course, development programmes in this area do not come cheap, but many great leaders have got to where they are by learning from the people they work for, and from being in organisations where the culture draws out those great leadership skills.

Research conducted by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, published in their book The Leadership Challenge, finds the top five leadership qualities are being honest, forward-looking, competent, inspiring and intelligent. These are not qualities that can be drummed into anyone by attending the right training course. Leadership development is about identifying potential and giving individuals the opportunity and support to bring these qualities to the fore.

So how can you do this when budgets are tight? First, give people the opportunity to lead - this could mean heading a project, a new development or simply a one-off activity. Second, play your part in creating a culture that recognises rewards and responds to examples of good use of leadership traits.

Third, use the much underrated technique of observation and feedback. We can all learn from analysis of how we operate in real-life situations. And finally, remember that the sign of a good leader is someone who feels energised rather than threatened by emerging talent. That's definitely something that does not require a training budget.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant1

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