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BW Businessworld

Grooming Future Leaders

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Is your organisation paying attention to preparing its future leaders? Recent research at the Center for Creative Leadership shows that the nature of leadership is changing — future leaders will need different skills such as the ability to collaborate, resilience, learning agility, cross-cultural sensitivity, and citizenship. Unless organisations take charge of grooming sufficient numbers of upcoming managers, India’s swift business growth over the past decades could screech to a halt.

Top leaders understand that an astute and well-defined business strategy is basic to organisational growth. What is not as well understood is that a well-conceived strategy will be well-executed only if a complementary leadership strategy is in place. For example, to succeed as a business, top leaders must keep an eye on their competitors and client base, noticing whether and how the profile of their competition or clients is changing. This helps them to set priorities and decide where to place their bets –such as on exquisite service to customers, product innovation, domestic or international acquisitions, sourcing raw materials competitively, diversifying product and service lines, or creating a global brand.

The strategic bets that top leaders place then dictates what will be needed from future leaders – is it more customer-focus or risk-orientation or savvy about international business or operational astuteness or the cleverness to monitor the company’s public image and reputation? Strategic vision tells us what future leaders must learn to do, and what functional knowledge, skills, beliefs and values those future leaders will need. Business strategy must be coupled with leadership strategy for organisations to stay abreast of wave after wave of turbulent changes in the marketplace.

Dr William Pasmore, who consults widely with global companies about strategic approaches to leadership development, has this to say: “It is not simply the number or quality of individual leaders that determines organisational success, but the ability of formal and informal leaders to pull together in the support of organisational goals that ultimately makes the difference.” He continues by noting that communication,influence and collaboration (involving formal and informal leaders) must occur up, down, and across the organization, almost as if the organisation chart didn’t exist.

Pasmore’s breakthrough perspective is the starting point for proposing three ways to invest in developing tomorrow’s leaders and create sustainable competitive advantage.

Query. Top leaders must continually query themselves about what they want their organisation’s future leaders to learn to do.

Picture. Organisational stakeholders at all levels must have a clear picture of what generic and specific leadership capabilities look like, differentiated by function, level, and location.

. Systems and processes have to be created so that the requisite knowledge, skills, perspectives, and values which future leaders must embody are intentionally developed.

A fresh approach to crafting and enacting a leadership development strategy is urgently needed; and this calls upon top leadership to change how their organisation creates new leadership capabilities. Filling the talent pipeline is no longer about finding generically bright people with praiseworthy academic credentials and functional expertise. Instead, complex questions have to be asked: In which functions and at what levels will this talent be deployed? How will they be expected to behave? What kinds of relationships will they be asked to build so that the organisation achieves thatspecial kind of collective success that makesall its stakeholders beam with pride?

Here are three overall principles and several HR practices to consider when dealing with the issues that have just been raised.

Principle 1: Personal engagement and commitment from top level leaders. This is primary. By telling stories that showcase desired behaviors—such as handling media events boldly, admitting mistakes, or adjusting to expatriate life—top leaders demonstrate engagement and inspire employees to adopt new ways of thinking and acting. Whether about oneself or others, stories broadcast images of leadership in action and the leadership values of the organization.

Another action is to publicly acknowledge that leadership is not produced by attending events or taking part in short-term initiatives, but must be implemented over at least a 3 to 5 year time-frame. This too signals top leader commitment to leadership development.

Principle 2:
Holistic development strategies. To pave the path to continual executive learning and growth, formal and informal learning opportunities must be blended. For example, participation in core leadership courses, events, and conferences must be mingled with learning from work assignments, strategic action development projects, community service, and board membership.

A caveat is that the skills for learning-to-learn must be imparted first, and woven into the fabric of the manager as a person. A proper learning orientation (to all relationships and experiences) is critical for leading effectively because the workday and business environment is no longer predictable; changes cannot be foreseen; what worked in the past may not work in the future. Therefore the future leader’s qualities as a learner--rather than as a traditional leader—have become significantly more germane to successful leading.

Principle 3: Installation of skillful coaching, mentoring, and feedback practices. Future leaders must apply relevant learningtoachieve business growth while helping their organization to adapt to unrelenting environmental changes and challenges. This is easier said than done. There is widespread recognition that coaching relationships help managers to apply new learning; butthe skills and resources for follow-on coachingis seldom available. Sothe power inherent in constructive instructional relationships weakens; those who coach, and are coached, are frustrated; and sadly, poor practices and poor implementation spoil the credibility of institutionalized coaching, mentoring and feedback per se.

When implemented, each of the three principlesabove calls for new behaviors from everybody in the organisation. Further, new behaviors must be recognized and rewarded to take hold. For example, when managers (who believe in holistic development) delegate meaningful responsibilities to employees, are they rewarded? If employees (who have been trained in coaching best practice) take the time to build relationships and give feedback, are they praised or are they penalized? These questions illustrate that translating “knowing”into “doing” takes conscious and dedicated organizational effort.

Practices, which typically falling within the purview of the HR group, also matter. Examples of practices that speed up leadership development are: calculated improvements to onboarding and socialisation of new employees; periodic use of individual and organisational assessments to uncover and meet individual and organizational needs; systems that provide sufficient support to managers during times of transition into new roles or following a promotion; processes by which individual career planning is linked to personal development; reimbursement for elective development activities; work and special assignments that are driven by developmental goals and reinforced by feedback from superiors, bosses, peers, subordinates, and others; opportunities to discuss learning strategies with coaches; and concerted efforts to involve managers in cross-functional or cross-geographical teams toinfuse themwith the mindset and skills for enacting collective cross-boundary leadership.

These principles and practices may seem theoretical or idealistic. But the types of individual and organisational capabilities needed today demand a different approach to developing future leaders. Given the rapid currents of unpredictable change, tangled interactions, and paradoxical choices that future managers will be thrown into, this article sets forth an imagination of what organisations can do to enable leaders to steward their business in years to come.

(Meena Surie Wilson is Senior Faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership—Asia Pacific. Ranked among the world’s Top 10 providers of executive education by Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Financial Times and headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina)