Is Commercial Acumen Missing From Your Leadership Development Programs?

Written by Alistair Gordon, 21 Jun 2020

Leadership programs often focus on ‘leading self’ and ‘leading others’, and miss ‘leading business’. Dominic Johnson, principal consultant at HFL, suggests why this is the case, and how organisations can meet the demand for leaders with strong strategic and financial business nous.

Yes, people skills are important. But well defined goals and a strategy to engage an organisation’s people are equally essential. And this can only stem from an insightful assessment of how the business is performing, relative to market risks and opportunities, customer needs, shareholder expectations and competitor strategies. Then, sound decisions can be made in terms of where the organisation should best deploy its efforts, energy and resources. Capabilities such as ‘strategic’ or ‘business’ or ‘commercial’ acumen are often missing from leadership development agendas. The organisation needs leading too.

You need to know whether today’s and emerging leaders can identify today’s and emerging issues and take appropriate and timely action. A typical option until now has been to employ an academic business school and use 20 year old case studies from other industries to arrive at pre-determined, generic ‘learnings’.

The new approach is put a real life report, using real data from your organisation, into the learners’ hands. You can then assess how they make sense of it and what development is required. You’ll see measurable improvements in how leaders:

Accurately read and interpret your organisation’s financial data, market analyses, balanced scorecards Use a more systematic way of thinking about cause and effect within the organisation Have increased confidence and expertise in decision making

Using real world scenarios also effects the immediacy of strategic or commercial impact – which in itself is highly educational to participants. Suddenly they see precisely what is being asked of them and they have tools and frameworks that can be put to instant use in their own setting.

Getting started

We are happy to confidentially share client case studies, with their permission, with non-competitive organisations. Contact us here and see the design in action. We’re also happy to introduce you to clients (and their senior leaders) who have helped develop commercial acumen curriculum.

For a further discussion on how we go about building customised business case studies to develop business acumen skills, contact us.

Dominic Johnson is Principal Consultant with HFL Leadership, and has previously worked at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, EDS, and Covey Leadership. He is a member of the program development team at HFL, and is responsible for leading HFL’s commercial acumen case study development efforts.