The lofty quote to the left emphasizes two of the most well-accepted elements of leadership: true leaders are lifelong learners who constantly seek knowledge and use the ongoing learning to make themselves better leaders; and true leaders inspire others to proactively commit to the mission and vision of the organization—not just to the task at hand or the crisis of the day.
As we work to identify future leaders in today’s global economy and strategically concern ourselves with succession planning, a third element of leadership comes into play shifting our traditional sourcing “replacement” paradigm. The imperative is to source proactive leaders who not only demonstrate a constant quest for knowledge, but also have the ability to apply knowledge in local and global environments, multinational organizations, and rapidly changing markets.
Today, identifying and sourcing future leaders involves more than singling out “stars.” The success of an organization might well be guided by “stars” who are groomed for increasingly responsible roles, but an organization’s success is ultimately guided by the ability to engage and motivate all employees by requiring that everyone in the organization assumes a leadership role. Strong leadership at all levels will continue to differentiate best-inclass organizations.
Today’s leader’s knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies—may just not be what is needed tomorrow
Think cell phones vs. fixed line phones, iPods vs. Walkmen, slide rules vs. calculators! Knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to maintain and enhance fixed line phone technology are not necessarily the same as those needed to create cell phone technology. These are extreme examples, but they emphasize the need to recruit and retain key talent that helps with the current work of the organization while helping the organization plan for what could and should be next. Failure to infuse the organization with people and teams capable of envisioning and driving progress toward whatever is next can cause the organization’s products and services to quickly become obsolete.
According to social scientist Dr. Bob Johansen, we live in a VUCA World—a world characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. According to Johansen, this creates significant challenges for organizations in that future leaders will need an emerging set of skills that will help them be able to anticipate and deal with the organization challenges a decade from now. Dr. Johansen encourages us to change Volatility to Vision (creating the future), Uncertainty to Understanding (developing new ways of thinking), Complexity to Clarity (helping people make sense of the chaos) and Ambiguity to Agility (eliminating hierarchies).
We frequently hear speakers or columnists preach the need for succession planning. “You must be preparing people to step into your shoes when you retire or move on to other roles.” The challenge to those who preach this is that we should not be focused on preparing successors to assume our current roles. The things that make our organizations relevant today are not necessarily the things that make our organizations relevant in the future. This means that the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies necessary for leadership roles in 2012 are not necessarily those most relevant five to ten years from now—even in the organization’s key leadership roles.
Organizations that seek global market relevancy must embrace diversity—in how they think, act, and innovate. Current and future leaders must ensure that diversity truly is used to make the organization stronger, and that means much, much more than counting the numbers of minorities in the workforce!
Your leader and future leaders need to ask: How does a true commitment to diversity and inclusion make your workplace stronger and impact the long-term viability of your organization? How does your organization demonstrate this commitment in every action it takes? What knowledge, skills, and competencies need to be required of every person in a leadership role?
New leadership sourcing paradigm— Ongoing learning and development component
For an organization to be successful, ongoing learning and development are required of every position at every level—not just for those “chosen” for succession to greater levels of responsibility. According to a November 2010 report from Bersin and Associates, “Enterprise Learning and Talent Management for 2011,” organizations with a strong learning culture are far outperforming their peers. These organizations don’t just emphasize learning for the high potential employees—learning is a part of the culture for the entire organization. Further, according to “The 2010 Best Companies for Leadership Survey” by the Hay Group, some of the top companies for leadership (including General Electric, Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, Accenture, and Southwest Airlines) have these things in common:
• 90% of best companies expect employees to lead, regardless of whether or not they have a formal position of authority.
• All best companies have a pool of successors for mission- critical roles.
• Cultural diversity in best companies has allowed 95% of them to be more effective at responding to the challenges of competing in a global economy.
• Best companies typically have flatter organizations moving quickly to improve efficiency and competitive positioning.
Create a leader learning environment in your organization—One that encourages and enables everyone in your organization to be a leader
There are many models of workforce development and learning, but there are key tenants that are essential to ensure that employee development and learning efforts are focused and help drive the short and long-term success of the organization:
• The organization’s mission needs to be clear.
• The organization’s strategic priorities should be tied to the mission, and metrics should be developed that help determine whether or not the organization is successful.
• The work of every part of the organization should be very clearly linked to the strategic priorities.
• Every employee should understand how his or her work is connected to the organization’s success and how his or her ongoing learning and development will help drive the future success of the organization.
What to look for when trying to identify those best equipped for future leadership positions Organizations should develop a leadership competency model most appropriate for their organizations. There are many models that can be used, but the competencies must include not only those demonstrated in the current position but also the potential to learn new skills necessary for roles needed in five to ten years. In “Strategy-Driven Talent Management, a Leadership Imperative,” researchers worked with several high performing organizations and identified the following evaluation criteria. How can a model similar to this one be created and utilized in your organization? It is important to review:
• Past performance as the “ticket in the door.” While past performance is definitely not the only indication of future leadership potential, it is definitely an important starting point to determine whether an individual is able to be successful in different roles.
• Leadership skills—including engaging and developing others.
• An individual’s ambition and motivation to advance— this is often clearly demonstrated through past efforts to go above and beyond what is required.
• The career interests of the individual.
• Commitment to the company—even though this is very difficult to measure.
• Adaptability and flexibility—how open is the person to new ideas and new learning experiences?
• Specific experience and tenure—is there a preference for work in a particular area of the organization? Is there preference for a particular higher education degree? Is a certain amount of time in the organization essential to gain foundation knowledge?
• Ability, willingness, and openness to learn.
• Personality variables including trust, integrity, personal awareness, and positive attitude.
• Specific abilities—is there a preference for specific abilities due to organizational initiatives or gaps?
• Career growth potential.
• Developmental orientation and progress—skills development is expected to continue. What has been the person’s past track record regarding development?
• Cultural fit—is the person expected to be a team player in a collaborative environment or an entrepreneur with limited team responsibilities?
Where to look for future leaders
A rapidly changing, more diverse, global economy requires that we more broadly consider where we look for future leaders. As you look for future leaders, you may need to change your leadership model so that it includes individuals and skill sets not typically valued in past models.
Knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies needed today will probably not be those needed in the future. Ongoing learning and development of the entire workforce is essential. Learning and development is not just for the rising stars! When trying to identify those best equipped for future leadership positions, you have to develop a flexible roadmap to identify future leaders that acknowledges past experience and achievements but also assesses the ability to thrive in a VUCA World. When searching for future leaders, you should be searching for people who are comfortable with who they are and the unique perspective they have to offer—not individuals who are trying to be “like” other leaders. Rethink where we look for future leaders. Traditional “tried and true” leadership pipelines may not be the most appropriate pipelines for finding future leaders in an increasingly diverse, increasingly complex world when disruptive innovation is the key to survival.