Online resources for leadership
Research into what was already available online as an aid to leaders showed millions of references to leadership but very few sites targeted specifically at leadership issues, more were linked to management. Hence, sites for SMEs gave advice on setting up businesses, strengthening entrepreneurship, and business health checks; the voluntary sector focussed on bespoke training and shared leadership; the public sector concentrated on individual development programmes and downloading publications; whilst education and knowledge were areas of interest for the corporate market, with references to business gurus and leading by peer example.
Key words and phrases used on the various sites reflected these differences. Website buzz words amongst SMEs were development, entrepreneur, business planning and advice; for corporates it was challenge, innovative, best practice and cutting edge; words such as innovative, community and good practice were common on public sector sites; and the voluntary sector used development, support, improve and understand.
The layout and aesthetics of websites also varied: conservative and professional for the private sector, plain and dull for SMEs, happy and inviting for the voluntary sector, and old fashioned and cluttered for the public sector.
Having researched what was out there online, focus groups were undertaken to gauge interest in online resources: people from corporates showed most interest in using online resources on leadership; in the public sector there was a tendency to use formal academic programmes for leadership training; the concept of leadership appears newer to the voluntary sector; SMEs are least likely to engage with leadership issues as they are more focussed on management and keeping up-to-date with regulations; students see a strong role for web resources though they expect sophisticated use of technology.
What people want from an online leadership site
Again, the various groups wanted different things. Corporates wanted interaction and information, SMEs wanted advice and updates, the public sector wanted a bit of everything, the voluntary sector wanted experience and sharing, and students needed a site to be active and interesting.
Forum respondents were asked what would make them use an online resource:
• functionality – such that the site was easy to use, site search is essential, good navigation links, personalisation
• format – must be eye-catching, good colour (red and blue), little advertising, meaningful graphics
• interactivity – technology to create two-way communication and social networking, for younger users alternative delivery sources were thought important (e-learning, online mentoring, webinars)
All this feedback collected by B2B was able to provide decision-making information for the NLA who then advised designers of the online portal so as to be able to embrace these opinions and also respond to the different requirements.
The research indicated what an ‘ideal’ site should include: a home page that was generic, with easy navigation, personalised login options, search facility, tabulated index, what’s new section and student site. The site content should include news, case studies, experts and community information, provide training and development resources, and discuss work and industry related issues such as regulation.
Thoughts on the site in the future focussed on a platform portal with self-selecting sector options. Ideas include:
• more bespoke solutions tailored to the needs of specific users or sectors
• leadership linked to self development, using current thinking
• more interactivity using technology to aid learning; networking; mentoring
• a facility to manage resources appropriate to the users’ needs such as sector sites by self selection
• regularly updated site, backed up by a credible institution which addresses leadership
B2B director Carol-Ann Morgan is manager of the research. She believes that the NLA site is the only one that addresses all business/industry sectors and can also engage all levels of management from shop floor to boardroom. “This site pulls all the different elements together as one complete resource. It is easy to use, when and where the individual wants. It allows ideas, best practice, information and leadership advice to be shared for the benefit of all and it encourages individual and cross-sector networking. In fact, it does what it set out to do, ie promote distributed leadership.”
About The Northern leadership Academy – www.northernleadershipacademy.co.uk. The NLA’s interactive leadership portal has been developed to help individuals and organisations based in the North improve their leadership skills through a raft of specialist content and interactive resources. Once registered, individuals can create personal profiles and engage in peer-to-peer networking, access a comprehensive directory of leadership resources, have the opportunity to participate in e-learning courses and sign-up to highly rated personal development programmes such as ‘Windmills’ and Harvard’s ‘Manage Mentor’.
The portal hosts a series of industry-specific channels for those working in the private, public, community and voluntary sectors. Managed by industry professionals, these channels offer dedicated forums, discussion areas, audio-visual tools, event calendars and other content specific to these sectors.
In addition to the online leadership portal, NLA runs leadership course, seminars and networking events across the North. It has also established an academic think-tank that undertakes research linked to regional economic issues ad provides fellowships to students based in the North that specialises in leadership.