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As 2013 marked a year of revival in global markets, 2014 is ringing in expectations of strong if not heady growth. For many companies, now is a good time to assess if their strategy can deliver on the promise of growth.

In Asia, talent management continues to be a big deal for companies looking for fast growth. A 2012 survey commissioned by the Singapore Ministry of Commerce concluded that effective talent management accounted for 54% of improved business performance. Thanks to studies like these, most businesses now understand the benefits of managing talent well. While much of the effort towards this newfound objective is placed on curbing attrition, a more nuanced and perhaps far more important consideration has been taking a backseat.

Of all the facets of talent management, leadership development is by and far the one with highest overall impact. It is also perhaps the least understood from an Asian perspective. Few companies understand that while good strategy is necessary to achieve healthy growth, it’s hardly enough.  Companies have to invest as heavily in good leadership training as they’re accustomed to in strategy development. Poor leadership undermines the potential for success like nothing else. With poor leadership, often a product of inadequate intellectual and financial investment in developing the requisite culture, a company is likely to fail, or even worse, limp along without ever reaching its true potential. Good leaders may salvage companies from bad strategy, but it just doesn’t work the other way round!

Is leadership development the definitive answer then?

If numbers from the recent US downturn are any indicator, investing in leadership development is a good, if not the definitive, answer. Right in the middle of downturn, almost all the top leadership training companies recorded a steep growth in enrollment. And most companies that did invest in formal training have reaped the benefits as they re-emerged healthier from the recession. The key to success is to look at leadership development as an investment rather than a cost – not investing in the most valuable of your assets is a sure way to undermining the potential success of your company.

When we look back historically, leadership impact on company performance is well documented. In the US, Apple struggled when Steve Jobs was not at the helm but rallied to become the most valued company in the world after his return. IBM went through a steep decline as well, but is thriving now as a new leadership cadre emerged from within. The companies that invented online advertising did well but plateaued out quickly, without reaching the potential they could have. Google’s leadership was more visionary and they broke through the barriers, redefining the entire industry in the process. Closer home, Ratan Tata transformed the formidable but India-centric enterprise into a truly global operation in a matter of two decades. More recently, the return of Narayana Murthy has reinvigorated a slumbering Infosys.

Even in companies that look like they are solely built atop a culture of disruptive innovation, the quality of leadership and how they invest in people makes all the difference between failing, quickly reaching a plateau after the initial spurt and sustainably growing to reach full potential. Good business strategy is just a path – it’s the people who power the engines of a company, and leaders are the catalysts that mobilize this energy. How powerful you can make that engine depends on how well you invest in both – talent and leaders – and that’s the definitive difference between success and failure.

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