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Gillian Quinton: Leadership talent is scarce. We must develop future chief execs

Gillian Quinton
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I attended an event for the unveiling of HR Magazine’s Most Influential Practitioner list in London recently.

It was good to see that three of the top most influential practitioners in the country were from the public sector. What great recognition of talent within the sector, especially amongst such a high-profile group of nominated HR practitioners.

In their acceptance speeches, all three people made a comment about their success being totally dependent on the talented teams they had behind them. No leader can be successful in isolation. They must invest considerable time in building their own critical support system: a leadership team.

A strong leadership team also has to be more than a coalition of service heads. It needs the right skills and behaviours to make it effective: trusted advisors, analytical skills and people who can speak truth to power. This helps the leader to keep perspective and to see opportunities not only across the organisation, but well beyond. These attributes to people need nurturing, developing and supporting throughout their careers; leaders cannot expect them to be intrinsic in people as they achieve promotion.

There are huge leadership challenges facing public sector organisations. The old ways of operating are no longer necessarily fit for purpose and senior leadership talent is critically scarce in some areas of the country. The ways of leading, thinking and behaving that were created to run our organisations some years ago are proving less effective in addressing the volatile, uncertain and complex realities of modern life. If we are to address the changing expectations and our need to develop new sources of talent to lead us into the future, we need to start thinking differently about leadership development.

This is why it is so important that organisations have deep and structured leadership development strategies, which not only address top team development needs but also the longer-term issue of future talent pipelines. As a sector, we need to ask: do we invest enough of our time on leadership team performance? Do we have effective succession planning processes? Do we have effective programmes for identifying and developing future leaders across all parts of our business?

My view is that we could be better on all counts. It’s time for a collective call to action.

Gillian Quinton, director of HR, Buckinghamshire CC

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