The one word most commonly used to describe the last decade has been “Change”. Many things have changed during the decade from ‘life on earth to life on facebook’, ‘conversations to BBMs’, ‘Wall Street being aspirational to Wall Street being Avoidable’, ‘housing loans to onion loans’, and amid all this frenetic change, leaders have been forced to change the way they lead, organisations have been forced to change the way they develop leaders and employees’ expectations from their leaders are also changing.
So, what has changed and what does the future look like?
For leaders themselves, there are a few key themes in the way they lead that have changed and will continue to evolve over the coming decade. They are required in today’s context to lead larger and younger teams. They have to constantly raise the bar on performance of these teams. And, what’s more, being increasingly geographically and culturally dispersed, they may not have even met many of their team members. The implications of this are huge.
The next decade’s leaders will need to be culturally, geographically and generationally savvy and agile. They will need to have the ability to manage pressure and ambiguity at the same time. They will need to be as smart and business savvy as was always expected, but now at a global level and against global benchmarks. They will need to be physically fit to manage the mental demands. Many of these skills are developed early in life and career and over time become hardwired into a leader’s style and personality.
So the bottom line is that young managers have to start preparing themselves for leadership early on. They must envision future goals and roles early on and plan for them in terms of exposure and development.
They would do well to work closely with their own managers and organisations to craft themselves into valuable leaders for the future through the right mix of exposure, formal and on the job development and close monitoring of this. For future leaders, development is an urgent business imperative and no longer a ‘nice to do if I have the time’ activity.
For organisations, the biggest change has been the realisation that leaders do not just ‘happen’. And even if they do, those that ‘happen’ are too few and far between to meet their leadership pipeline needs. Aggressive growth or aggressive efficiency needs leaders throughout the organisation to drive the strategic agenda. While many organisations in the past decade have focussed on evaluating their leaders, too few have effectively used the data to ‘move the needle’ on the leaders they have evaluated*. This realisation will lead organisations to focus strongly on the development of a robust leadership pipeline in the future decade.
There are some key changes that organisations are making to drive this.
*Leaders are realising that they need to develop leaders to support them and the organisation. Thus, coaching and development of the next line is increasingly becoming a business priority for senior leadership.
The accountabilities for these initiatives are moving from traditionally being with HR, to business leaders demanding that this becomes their agenda and that HR steps up to work with them to effectively advise and execute on these initiatives.
*Organisations and leaders are taking a much more long term view of leadership development. There is a realisation that a series of training programmes, or access to web-based interventions in themselves is inadequate to move the needle. It requires a consistent cycle of development actions followed by measurement over a period of time to achieve the desired results.
Thus formulation of development programmes often spans 3 - 5 years for a particular population which may then further be broken down into shorter calendars’ of a year or so. Measurement of effectiveness is being done through longitudinal studies rather than the typical post intervention point in time method.
*The nature of development is also changing with the ‘seek’ form of development gaining increasing importance over the traditional ‘tell’ approach. There is also a shift towards looking at development more holistically with an equal weightage to functional, behavioural and values based development.
The key theme for ‘the led’ is more. More time, better examples, more coaching, more opportunities, more independence, more rewards. The expectations of the managed are driven by the pressures they are subjected to from the environment, from peers, from the organisation.
In a fiercely competitive scenario with organisational pyramids becoming increasingly flat, the race for the next level, the next promotion, the next opportunity and the next reward is frighteningly fierce.
There is therefore, a tremendous hunger from the led for their leaders to effectively lead them into a future that promises fulfilment of desires and expectations at the material as well as the non material level. The authoritative or avuncular figure of a leader no longer cuts any ice. Employees demand from their leaders, tangible results and inclusive and sensitive leadership styles. Nothing less will do.
This will continue to be a driving theme in the next decade, however the realisation that leaders are human, and thus fallible, is what is likely to change in the future.
While the led will demand the highest quality of leadership we will also see the led playing a leadership supportive and development role themselves in the future.
The next decade surely holds a promise of a rapid evolution in the space of Leadership.
(The writer is Head of Consulting, DDI India Pvt Ltd)