At a time of unprecedented complexity and volatility, when entire industries face disruption, helping leaders to cope, perform, and shape their organisations has become an acute challenge. It is time for a radical rethink of the nature of leadership development, including new approaches and a new philosophy.
Those responsible for training leaders must review the fundamentals of what they do and make profound changes, as the status quo simply no longer stands up to scrutiny. Although this does mean a radical realignment, it also has potential to encourage an exciting swathe of innovation.
Hult International Business School, working with global management network EFMD, gathered together a group of influential EFMD member companies, to explore how this innovation is being turned into a reality. These companies – including European giants Bayer, L’Oreal, Nokia, UBS and Siemens – are challenging conventional leadership development by rethinking what is needed to help leaders to thrive.
Despite huge differences in scope, sectors and markets, often the challenges faced, and workable solutions being carried out by these companies, turned out to be similar. All participants agreed on a set of eight core beliefs to help companies support a vibrant leadership development culture:
1. Experiential learning is the single most efficient way to develop leaders
The most effective learners are those who can learn from a broad range of experiences by actively seeking out learning experiences and developing skills and strategies for responding to different opportunities. Nokia, for example, is experimenting with replacing conventional leadership development courses and programmes with an immersive experience, where leaders are located in other companies for a substantial period of time.
2. Reflection is a critical key to cementing understanding
Innovations in leadership development should encourage leaders to develop the skill of reflection, as reflecting on one’s own behaviours and skills helps build self-awareness, which is regarded as an indispensable trait of good leaders. Leaders who recognise their strengths, as well as feelings, thoughts, actions and crippling weaknesses, can make better quality decisions than those who do not.
3. Transformational change should be the desired outcome of many leadership development interventions
Transformational change starts with its leaders. Truly transformational leaders need to break away from unproductive cycles of thinking and the resulting ineffective decision making, towards a process which is both more empathetic to others and more open to new ways of looking at things.
An example came from UBS, where transformational change is at the heart of the new leadership architecture. In development centres, leaders are put into performance situations, on which they then reflect, before peer and coach feedback, 360 feedback and further self-reflection are added.
4. Group and peer learning encourage not only individual but collective learning, and a focus on the organisation as a whole
21st century leadership development needs a growth mindset – an attitude to learning which embraces challenges, persists through setbacks, learns from criticism and crucially finds inspiration in the success of others.
Creating and maintaining this sort of complex, interdependent learning climate will help to promote learning agility, because peer-to-peer learning, by its nature, is more informal, contextual and seamlessly integrated into the organization than formal intervention.
5. The digital transformation going on inside organizations should be mirrored in leadership development
Computers and robots will keep evolving and learning to do new things at an amazing pace. Digital transformation is all-consuming in its capacity to change the way we work, and few of us have the vision to fully comprehend this.
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Leadership development is one strand which will be changed by digital transformation. The better place to be on the journey is in the driving seat, dictating direction, rather than the passenger seat, admiring the speed of travel.
6. Leadership development should be a continuous process integrated with work
Modern leadership development means providing people with thoughtful, innovative, even provocative opportunities to learn from their work, rather than simply taking them away from their work to learn.
7. Changes in the workplace of the future should be reflected in leadership development
Science fiction has become a grim reality for some, but an exciting opportunity for others, and as leadership educators we have a choice in how to respond. We are, in a real way, rediscovering what it means to be human and it is vital that we familiarize ourselves with these shifts and disruptions, assessing the impact they may have on leadership and leadership development.
8. Increased resilience, of both the individual and the organization, should be a critical outcome of leadership
Resilience, not only of the individual but of the organization, is a core outcome of leadership development. Great leaders develop resilience and create resilient organizations. There is much that the wider organization can do to help foster resilience in individuals, including supporting a culture of “learning through error” and monitoring resilience in their people.
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