In this day of ‘digital Darwinism’, leaders with strategic vision and focus are an asset to every company. As the business landscape becomes increasingly competitive and digitally disruptive, organizations need to be more agile and adaptive. Deloitte’s 2018 Human Capital Trends noted that collaboration among the C-suite is a very important factor influencing good organizational leadership, as is being change instigators and business co-creators. Teams can no longer operate in siloes and they need to be more integrated in their objectives and goals and network more amongst colleagues. This essentially means that instead of operating as functional ‘experts’, team leaders will have to become part of a ‘symphonic C-suite’.
Future leaders will need a variety of cross-functional skills such as the ability to collaborate, learn with agility, be resilient and remain sensitive. At Gartner’s Reimagine HR conference, panelists agreed that “Agility, adaptability, and the ability to lead fast-paced change” will become more important than ever before.
Unfortunately, despite the clarion call for leadership, companies are lagging behind with succession planning and leadership development. According to one survey , 80% percent of the companies considered leadership a top priority, but only 41% felt confident about their strategy to develop leaders. Enterprises that are considering the course of their leadership development program would do well to keep in mind a few principles:
incorporate leadership development as DNA
Succession planning and leadership development need to be integrated into the very DNA of the organization. Often, companies begin identifying leaders only when certain employees are due for promotion or when they have reached a mid-senior level. However, the process needs to begin much earlier—in fact, right from recruitment.
Leadership is not developed overnight. To be truly effective, a leader should have had a variety of experiences. This is best accomplished when the company has been intentional about ensuring that top performing employees with the right attitude get this exposure to leadership mentoring and relevant experience early on in their career. A well-articulated evaluation system that charts out the roadmap for various roles can be a motivating factor. A culture that empowers individuals to tap into their leadership capabilities and encourages them to aspire to leadership will consistently bring out the best.
evaluate leadership abilities objectively
Leadership is a combination of factors. Often companies identify potential leaders on the basis of manifested behavior like the results achieved, drive and initiative demonstrated and so on. There is also the fear of these role expectations being typecast based on the working styles and personality traits of people who successfully held these positions. However, organizations would do well to remember that leadership functioning styles can be very different in achieving the same levels of success and progress. Also, not every leadership role requires the same types of skills. Some roles and functions naturally lend themselves to being ‘visible’, while others require leaders to be adept backstage. Or perhaps, a future leader is stuck in a role that is not his/her area of natural strength.
Before shortlisting candidates for mentoring programs, objectively assess the qualities that the leader of a particular function should possess. There are a large number of professional assessment tools and tests that can help negate bias, that organizations can leverage for this purpose.
promote an ecosystem of learning
After leaders have been assessed and shortlisted, they can be taken through a formal induction process. Some organizations have a well-planned leadership development program to hone candidates. Others work through a mentor support system where potential leaders shadow their mentors and learn from them. Executive development courses in association with leading business schools, e-learning and m-learning are becoming increasingly popular as they allow companies to offer the benefits of leadership training to a larger number of employees at once.
The Corporate Leadership Council concludes that on-the-job learning has three times more impact on employee performance than formal training. Stretch assignments are a great opportunity for companies to assess candidates with real leadership skills. Employees must be encouraged to speak up and work outside of their comfort zones and established practices – this gives them a chance to prove their capabilities. As candidates navigate uncharted territories, they too will find their unique leadership style, their strengths and areas of focus and improvement.
provide opportunities for lateral growth
Growth does not always have to be vertical. Prospective leaders who are ‘cross-pollinated’ with other departments get an opportunity to meet new people, try out different roles and get a hands-on look at several departments within the company.
Not only will this provide future leaders with perspective on the overall functioning and direction of the company, but it will also encourage them to move beyond being functional experts. As they continue to better understand the company's products and services and challenges that each division faces, they will be able to adopt a more collaborative approach and help promote a culture that is ‘silo-free’.
offer avenues for constant feedback
Whether it’s through performance reviews or by disseminating the inputs received during a 360-degree assessment, companies can help fast-track an employee's development by providing them with regular updates on their progress and performance. Incumbent leaders would also need to ideally participate in performance evaluations that examine how they are developing on various aspects of leadership and management.
Having direct, honest communication is a major part of building an accountable culture and it should begin with leadership.
There is no one single time-tested metric or process to identify, evaluate and groom future leaders. But certain traits including clarity of vision, courage to walk the long, and sometimes difficult journey, and commitment to the organization and its people are all must have traits in leaders. Organizations need to build into their people management practices a solid succession plan for all key positions and communicate this transparently to all internal stakeholders. In a fast-paced world where change is inevitable, enterprises would do well to plan their internal succession programs, so they can be future-ready with the right people leading at the helm.