Leadership Development – A Need for a Paradigm Shift
Over the last decade or so, economic developments have put the focus on how to prepare leaders to manage in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) environment.
Based on a Leadership Forecast study, the primary business priorities for organizations, according to their top executives, are growth and leveraging their talent. Interestingly given the rate of growth of these organizations, the executives prefer to focus more on strengthening the leadership and management of their organizations than introducing additional uncertainties through expansion.
This is the reality of the landscape we are in.
But what are the realities of today’s young workforce?
While top executives of leading organizations are willing to bet their money on leadership development and cite that as their single largest agenda – what does today’s new leader look like? Is she ready for this? What is his reality?
Look around you within the corporate walls. This is the world where change, speed and ambiguity have become the way of life. And here you see bright, young, sharply dressed men and women moving from one meeting to another. Their days are filled with back-to-back reviews, meetings, conference calls, one-on-ones and the occasional conversations over coffee or a smoke. And that is the story each day – more change, more speed, more ambiguity to deal with. And the young workforce enjoys this enticement.
The reality of the corporate world today is that more and more people are moving into managerial and leadership positions much faster than 1 or 2 decades back. Young, high potential managers and leaders, with limited experiences and exposure leading very busy lives – trying hard to PROVE their worth – to move to the next level.
This may have been the reality earlier as well, but the demographics of today’s leader have changed.
These young leaders have an interesting challenge. Unlike their predecessors, too much is happening in their lives at the same time. They are being promoted to Regional Managers or Global Heads at the same time when they are becoming a parent for the first time. Different from their predecessors who would get to “senior” roles around the time their kids were settled in school, they were settled in comfortably in a city and a home had invested in relationships with spouse/ partner and perhaps even kids were socially connected and had support systems – a lot has changed for these new leaders.
That’s not it, their environment has changed completely – the world today is about efficiencies – things need to be done “ASAP”. The “mind-chatter” is high – multiple job options, cities to live in decisions, promotions to literally “die” for and the belief that you have to maintain “relationships” to be successful which leads to after office social time – with office folks.
So – we have an interesting leadership challenge.
Despite the plethora of management and leadership development now available and the increasing level of demand, however, there remains a significant question as to the extent to which current provision meets the needs of today’s leaders and today’s organizations.
The point I’m making is that it’s evident that the leaders and the leadership challenges of today have changed, so why haven’t we started to change our approach to developing leaders?
A decade or so back, if you were working for a big Global organization, and you were a high potential manager – you would probably be sent off to the USA for a Management Training Program. Where you would be educated on how to manage time, delegate effectively, manage and lead teams. You would be trained on various leadership models and taught how to “plot” people on your team and how to “strategize” your approach to each person. You were TAUGHT.
And that worked. It worked because your realities were different as were your pressures – both at work and at home. So being taught some skills and then being left off to practice them worked – because you had time, you COULD make mistakes. Not just that, other people around you – your leaders and managers also made time and invested that time in speaking with you, guiding you, being a support system for you.
The world today is not as forgiving – or so is the belief that these young leaders have formed. Regardless of whether that is a fact or an unrealistic belief that managers have today – it is THEIR reality.
What this means is that the future workforce is working under fear, stressed out and possibly without a support system to help them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Management Training Programs are not helpful – they still are. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As leaders who have benefitted from being ahead of the current leaders by a decade or so, we have a responsibility – a responsibility to build stronger ways of developing our future leaders.
What we need is a way to help leaders deal with this landscape and their realities. Equipping them with skills and competencies will have little impact on their behaviours and results unless we work with them at a deeper emotive level as well.
I call this the “Inside-Out” approach to Leadership Development.
This trend in the approach to Leadership Development originates in the essence of the person and radiates outward to enrich others, going beyond competencies and skill-building to character and personal development.
The emerging trend is to drive powerful organizational development interventions using a two-pronged approach of traditional and transformational development methods. This practice is based on the belief that leadership is not about doing; it’s about knowing and being. Leadership comes from our values, principles, experiences, beliefs and essence.
More and more organizations are active
y looking at how they can enable their leaders better using this approach.
Organizations are using a mix of traditional methods like training, projects, action learning etc. and coupling them with deeper transformational methods like external coaching/mentoring, Human Behaviour Process labs and building strong internal coaching programs to sustain this ongoing development process.
This trend is leading to another change in the way leadership competencies are laid out. While most organizations have clearly defined competency frameworks, more and more organizations are realizing the importance of considering competencies that promote the overall development of an individual and are moving away from traditional “critical” leadership competencies like Business Knowledge, Decision Making and Marketing etc.
Many organizations have started leveraging competencies like Building Self-Insight, Listening and Receiving Feedback. In fact, a recent review of literature in the field of leadership development throws up 53 competencies associated with “global leadership” (Joyce Osland - Executive Director of the Global Leadership Advancement Center at San Jose State University). They found that each of the 53 competencies could be categorized into one of six core dimensions: 1. Relationship (competencies related to developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships) 2. Traits (core personality or habitual behavioural tendencies) 3. Business Expertise (expertise in global business knowledge) 4. Organising Expertise (skills relating to organizing and structuring human and administrative processes in global contexts) 5. Cognitive (core internal information processing tendencies) 6. Vision (the ability to discern where an organization should go and the capability to rally subordinates to strive to achieve the vision)
This is an important development in this field and as organizations look at leadership development, defining and tracking the right competencies – which are in sync with our landscape and people realities becomes crucial.
The changing corporate landscape, leaders changing demographics and realities and new trends in Inside-Out Leadership Development, lead us to our next question – how many organizations have the capability, expertise and resources to deploy such a model to develop their leaders?
Center for Leadership Studies – University of Exeter
Clearly, there is a shift – we are now focusing on specific individuals, through customized and experiential modes – leveraging external experts and partners as co-creators and coaches on this ongoing journey.
As you notice, another significant trend is that of leveraging external coaches. Many organizations are happy doing just that – but a word of caution – if the coaching program is not integrated with the overall leadership development approach; you may end up with something half-baked on both ends.
In conclusion, Leadership Development initiatives have to be sponsored and supported right from the top. In most cases, successful initiatives have been those where the CEO of the organization has been the first person to undergo a developmental intervention.