Job One for HR Professionals – Building Leadership Capacity

By Dr. Vince Molinaro and Dr. Liane Davey


Building leadership capacity has been mission critical in most companies1. Recent research suggests that HR professionals around the globe say they are concerned with the ability of their organizations to develop future leaders2. More importantly, this leadership gap is getting hindering the ability of companies to grow.


In our research, we have found the building leadership capacity is emerging as a new organizational capability3. Companies need to become proficient at defining the kind of leadership they need, how to measure it and how to build it. They must commit the necessary resources to make it happen. If they don’t, their own future success may be at risk.


This is a critical time for HR professionals. CEOs and boards are looking to HR to help them address one of the top mission critical business issues.


So what should you be paying attention to as an HR professional if you want to build strong leadership capacity?


Get Clear on Who Is Accountable for Building Leadership Capacity
We find in many organizations confusion over who has accountability for leadership capacity.


Traditionally accountability for leadership development has rested with the Human Resources function. This is no longer sufficient. HR needs to partner with the senior leaders of their organizations. However, HR needs to also carefully reflect on their part of the accountability when leadership development becomes strategic and focuses on the leadership capacity gap.


Senior leaders must be accountable for overall leadership capacity and HR for technical leadership capacity.


·         Executives are accountable for overall leadership capacity: An important aspect of developing leadership capacity is to create a leadership story that reflects the future state of the capacity you wish to achieve. Executives must own the accountability to do this. They should also find ways to 1) visibly champion the importance of leadership capacity throughout the organization 2) participate actively in leadership talent review processes; and 3) informally develop leaders through modeling, coaching, mentoring of high potential talent, developmental experiences, etc.


·         HR is accountable for technical leadership capacity: HR needs to develop the tools and processes that can be leveraged across the organization to enhance overall leadership capacity. Technical processes include succession planning, leadership development, training, finding the best talent, lateral transfers and promotion programs, formalized coaching, performance management, etc. The organizations that have the right balance of executive and HR accountability will be in a position to succeed.


Understand the Three Dimensions of Leadership Capacity
Too often, HR professionals believe that building leadership capacity is merely about implement a series of leadership development programs. The assumption is that training is the answer, because all that is needed is to “skill up” leaders from a behaviour standpoint. Though these initiatives may be valuable, on their own, they are never enough to close the leadership gap. The reason is that leadership capacity exists beyond the level of individual leaders.


Although many organizations are developing leaders through training, coaching or stretch assignments (focusing on individual leaders), most are missing the opportunity to build leadership capacity through improved organizational practices and strengthened leadership culture. They have yet to embrace the idea that leadership capacity exists beyond the individual leader. There are three dimensions to leadership capacity.


·         The Individual Leader Dimension refers to the extent to which leaders demonstrate what we refer to as holistic leadership behaviors.

·         The Organizational Practices Dimension: This is the extent to which an organization’s practices affect leadership. In recent years, we have seen more organizations devote attention to the practices (such as succession management) that will help them build leadership capacity. What we have not seen is the leveraging of practices (such as business planning or budgeting) for which the primary purpose is something other than leadership development. These practices can be potent supports or equally potent barriers to the development of holistic leadership.


·         The Leadership Culture Dimension: This is the way in which the norms, values and standards in the organization shape leaders’ behaviors. Culture is invisible to the eye, and because of its intangible nature, it has been difficult for organizations either to appreciate it or to influence it. But despite the challenge, it is fundamental for organizations to deliberately manage their leadership culture.


With an understanding of the three dimensions, HR professionals must then be in a position to work on all three dimensions in order to build strong leadership capacity.


Measure Before You Build

There is a tendency when confronted with a leadership gap to jump to training solutions. We find HR needs to change how it approaches this challenge, by first beginning with a solid foundation of data. We have developed three tools to help HR professionals measure leader behaviours, organizational practices and leadership culture. These tools are available in the book, Leadership Solutions. Strong measures help you establish a baseline of areas of strengths and gaps. It then leads to targeted solutions. You focus your time, energy and resources addresses the areas that need the greatest attention. Measures also help you sell your approach to



1 Weiss & Molinaro (2005). The Leadership Gap. John Wiley & Sons.

2 IBM Global Human Capital Study: Looming Leadership Crisis, Organizations Placing Their Companies’

Growth Strategies at Risk – October 18, 2007

3 Weiss, Molinaro & Davey (2007). Leadership Solutions. Jossey-Bass Inc.



Vince Molinaro, Ph.D. is Principal and National Practice Lead – Organizational Solutions at Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions. He leads the consulting arm of Knightsbridge which provides clients with solutions in the areas of strategy, team effectiveness, leadership capacity and human resources consulting. Vince has published extensively as is the co-author of The Leadership Gap (John Wiley & Sons) and Leadership Solutions (Jossey-Bass).

Liane Davey
, Ph.D. is Principal and Team Lead in the Organizational Solutions Practice of Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions. Liane leads a team of dedicated

consultants providing solutions in the areas of strategy, team effectiveness, leadership capacity and human resources consulting. Liane is co-author of Leadership Solutions (Jossey-Bass).


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