The future of leadership development

So much has been said of the complexity of globalisation, its effect on the workplace and especially on the demands put on our leaders.  Most of our readers will be familiar with the term “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) describing our modern world and many are grappling with what that means in the context of leadership development.  This brief article offers some reassurance to learning and development practitioners and their colleagues in organisational development who are asked to be the architects of corporations in a constant state of flux.

The VUCA world

The volatile political and economic landscape, where disruptive technology and changing markets can be a threat, offers both opportunity from moment to moment and has the potential to make some leaders feel ill-equipped.  The most successful leaders will know how to change direction rapidly and operate globally, they will be skillful at harnessing diversity and securing the right talent for the road ahead.  And they will always take care to manage their own resilience and wellbeing.

The emerging future

The good news is that, despite all this, the future is more predictable than we might at first think.  For example, if you ask anyone involved in the workplace about the trends in automation, artificial intelligence, renewable energy, sea-level rise, education in India (and to what extent girls are now receiving the education they deserve) or any other topic relevant to workplaces they will provide a pretty good evaluation.  We’ve even asked a room full of HR professionals to plot these trends on “blank” graphs without reference to Google and they proved to be excellent futurists!

The point is this, there is a very definite (if complex) future emerging and leaders in our organisations have a responsibility to predict and even “get ahead of the curve”.  In turn ‘people professionals’ have the opportunity to support and equip them through modern leadership development that is truly fit for the future.  What would that look like?

A four-step leadership development strategy 

1 – Skills for the future:  When almost all leadership development was focused on skills, for example: how to solve problems, manage performance, negotiate, influence, present and so on – these skills were associated with doing the job well ‘in the moment’.  Skill development is still necessary and has developed to take account of particular skills for the future such as collaboration, innovation and engagement.  The best examples maximise face-to-face learning, coaching and a rich blend of alternative learning opportunities – including online and on-the-job.  All precious opportunities that allow participants to experience and apply learning to the very real challenges arising in the emerging future.

2 – Evolution of mindset:  The complexity of the changing world requires leaders to accelerate the evolution of “leadership maturity”.  The world is such that no leader “knows all the answers”.  Emotional intelligence, resilience and agility have become essential characteristics of the future-focused leader.   Those that are able to display the wisdom and maturity to engage with others; pay attention to feelings (their own and those of others); and to really understand, notice and predict the future that is emerging in the wider system will do well.

3 – Conscious mastery of behaviour:  We have access to powerful diagnostics that measure the values that people bring to work; the ones that are actually playing out in the workplace; and the ones that are necessary to deliver our corporate aspirations.  In this mix, leaders have the opportunity to take stock of their own values, how others see them (behaviour) and consciously work on behavioural development that is both authentic and effective in driving culture change to the benefit of all stakeholders.

4 – Systematic alignment to purpose and vision:  Because the VUCA world is as it is, our purpose and especially our vision are constantly evolving and occasionally making rapid shifts.  Because of this, leader alignment is necessary and should be systematic – scheduled at a frequency appropriate to the context.  This might be on an annual basis supplemented by interventions to follow significant changes.  Leader alignment interventions that engage all leaders in their collective purpose will provide opportunities to co-create the vision and navigate the challenges associated with their journey.

Taking stock

In summary, where is your organisation now and what needs to happen to ensure your leaders receive the development they need to be “fit for the future”?

  • Sarah Cave, Director and Head of Leadership at Primeast
  • Clive Wilson, author and Director at Primeast

From an article by Sarah and Clive originally published by CIPD and can be viewed here.