Leadership Development involves “identifying and measuring leadership qualities, screening potential leaders from non-leaders, then training those with potential.” The definition makes it sound like a simple recipe to keep cooking up a steady flow of leaders. I wish it were.
According to Wicker-Miurin, the Characteristics of the New Leader are:
1. They go away from what they know
2. Build bridges and walk across them
3. Have a sense of the great arc of time
4. Know that they depend on others
5. Remember that “it’s not about them, but it starts with them”
6. Have humility -
The Leadership Development function exists to help the organization gauge the future, create the model of leadership that will be needed to be successful today as well as to create a benchmark of what the future will demand of leaders. Once the benchmark is set, it is all about identifying potential talent that can be groomed to take on the mantle of leadership in future and then deciding what will develop those leaders to build the competencies that will make them successful in navigating the organization in a world we do not know yet. It is about preparing for a world we do not know, for skills we do not know about yet and using methods we do not always understand.
The world is changing faster than we think. Business models are changing. Nokia makes 13 cell phones per second. 1,000,000 books are published every year. Google search scanner can digitize 1000 pages an hour. Communication is changing and so is the medium. Twitter is for teens, right? No. It is for big business too. Dell earned $3 million through Twitter posts since 2007. Obama raided $55 million in 29 days using online media. Many global banks would love to grow at that pace!
Dilemma No. 1: What shape will the business be?
Recognizing trends.This to me is the area most of us are least trained in. How is the world changing around us? There are 173 television channels my provider offers today and promises many more. Youtube has become the second largest search engine. Teens prefer SMS as a means of communication rather than email – there are more text messages sent today than the planet’s population! More than 70% of 4 year olds in US have used computers. Knowledge is progressively becoming available on tap. The skill lies in being able to filter this information overload to step back and recognize emerging patterns that leaders must take into account as they plan for the future. There were a few economists who had predicted the recession but not too many leaders picked up these voices from the clutter. The challenge no longer is about lack of information, but about too much information to sift through.
The agenda for Leadership Development is to first build mechanisms that scan the environment that will prepare leaders to make sense of data that can throw trends. Leaders have to constantly scan the latest ideas from science, humanities, technology and media to recognize data points that will help them build an outline of the things to follow. The better the leaders’ view of the ever changing future, the more successfully can they prepare the organization to navigate in that direction ahead of others.
Dilemma No. 2: What will the Leadership model be like in future?
In 2006, there were 3.1 million students in India and 3.3 million students in China who joined the workforce. How much of their world does the leader understand? How different is it from the world of those who are employers of these people? Some of these people will hold 10-14 jobs before they hit their 40th birthday. So what must organizations do to attract the best of this generation? What kind of business would ignite the passion of the workforce of the future? What will be the model of the workplace for the future? It is a world where multiple generations will coexist with different needs and different aspirations. How will that change the employer-employee relationship? Can we possibly crowdsource this wisdom?
The Leadership Development function has to then learn to predict the leadership model that will be most effective in this world. For a global organization like Wipro, it means a complex equation that also factors in the cultural contexts, multiple generations, varied and often contradictory regulatory mechanisms that the new leader of tomorrow’s organization will grapple with. Would that lead to one common model of leadership? Should that be different for different businesses and geographies or should there be some common elements and a few that are appropriate for the local context where the leader is operating? After all it is against these criteria that leaders would be stacked against to see how they measure up.
Dilemma No. 3: What is the best development approach?
Once we know what kind of leaders we are trying to develop, the task is simpler, right? No. People learn in different ways and at their individual pace and make their own meaning depending on the way they have experienced the world so far. Each individual is a complex product based on their nature and life experiences with different learning styles and preferences. Knowledge and skills are comparatively easier to transfer than attitudes. Yet, some people will be better at Math than History. Some will learn languages faster than learning a sport. Some are better with data than soft skills. Some learn better in hands-on environments while some learn better in a classroom. Some respond better to audio than video. Some find a combination of this effective. How do we use non-conventional ways to learn on demand? Maybe leverage participants, maybe co-create learning models with them.
Leadership Development is also about identifying what can be taught better by training and what is to be developed by job sculpting and coaching. It works best when there are multiple learning options. Training is just one of the many ways in which we can equip our future leaders to deal with today and tomorrow. The organization’s processes must all work in tandem to make leadership development happen. It means making difficult choices to abandon the familiar only to retrace the steps sometimes. This is where technology can be leveraged – to design content, to deliver content, to replicate content and make insights available on tap. It is not only time to re-examine the role of the Leadership Development function in the organization, but also time to evaluate how we can leverage social media to build a two way conversation to sustain the learning and development process.
The notion what Leadership will mean tomorrow is still evolving. Development is a complex process and some of the technology of learning is in itself work in progress. Yet, the task of Leadership Development cannot wait for all answers to emerge because by then, the questions will change.