Article: How leadership looks like in the digital age

Leadership Development

How leadership looks like in the digital age

Leadership training is a vital aspect of being a futuristic leader in the new age. Here's an in-depth look at how HR leaders can design robust leadership development programs.
How leadership looks like in the digital age

Creating future leaders is one of the top priorities for corporates. It is no surprise that more than $14 Bn has been spent by corporations and there are more than 70,000 books and videos on leadership development, according to a report by Josh Bersin. Yet the gap persists, with effective leadership often being relegated to a myth. 

“80 percent of respondents rated leadership a high priority for their organizations, but only 41 percent told us they think their organizations are ready or very ready to meet their leadership requirements”--Deloitte 2019, Global Human Capital Trends

Here is what organizations must focus on to build an effective leadership pipeline. 

Precursors to effective Leadership Development Design:

Before even designing the leadership development program it is important to set up a strong foundation through pre-processes: 

  • Clarify the Leadership Vision: Effective leadership starts by defining what kind of leadership shall steer the organization in the right direction. Present leaders must clearly define the strategic goals and the leadership paradigm that supports those goals. 

  • Outline the leadership competencies for business: The success factors for tomorrow’s leaders will be very different, requiring HR and business leaders to relook at leadership competency framework. Leadership is becoming increasingly participative and democratic. Some traditional competencies continue to be relevant--trust, open and honest communication, collaboration, adaptability, speed, agility, creativity and innovation. Some competencies are more contemporary--the ability to lead through more complexity and ambiguity (81%), ability to lead through influence (65%), ability to manage on a remote basis (50%), and the ability to manage a man-machine workforce (47%), and the ability to lead more quickly (44%), according to Deloitte..  

  • Identify high potential talent: Millennials, who shall make up a major chunk of the workforce consider leadership challenges to be an intrinsic motivator. It is important to identify future leaders early-on, to empower them with the right inputs to excel as leaders. They need not necessarily be the high-performers. HR must look at a wider pool and provide them the opportunity to carve their leadership paths. Consider some talent pools such as cross-functional employees, geographically mobile employees, and so on. 

  • Build a solid resource-base: Changing the systems, processes and workflows to support the leadership development cause is a foundational step. For example, for digital enablement, it is essential to put in place digital tools for communication and collaboration. HR, IT and C-suite must invest in infrastructure and technology projects at the outset. 

  • Make LDP learner-personalized: Leadership development programs must be learner-centric. Especially for the next-gen population, it is critical to allow employees to choose from on-demand resources based on their learning style, pace, interests, and goals. Millennials will be totally engaged in the leadership journey only if they are able to learn at their pace, as per their style and from their preferred sources. 

  • Measure effectiveness continuously: HR must continuously assess whether the LDP is producing the desired outcomes. “What are the desired leadership behaviors?” , “What are the actions these behaviors should drive?”, “Does the organizational culture support the leadership style?”, “Are our best leaders adding long-term value?” – HR must ask the tough questions and assess whether the LDP is truly creating future-readiness for the organization at large. Measure the impact in terms of business metrics, and course-correct if required.  

  • Celebrate leadership: Last but not least, building leaders is all about enthusing and inspiring the right behaviors. Devise ways to celebrate leadership wins, and reward people who have demonstrated the right behaviors and contributed to future growth.  

Program Design: A checklist to consider while designing and deploying

A Leadership Development Program is no longer one-size-fits-all, it must be designed as a multi-dimensional intervention to suit different talent needs. L&D must tap into a host of available learning mechanisms and resources, to create a “basket of leadership learning offerings”. Here is what not to miss: 

  • Self-assessment: Self-introspection and assessment are an integral part for top talent to realize improvement areas and work upon them to become an authentic leader. 

  • Special projects and assignments: Young professionals aspire to take up responsibility early-on, and learn through experience. Designing special assignments aimed at developing leadership must be an LDP priority.  

  • Coaching and mentoring: Individual coaching aids professional grooming, whereas team-coaching helps build cohesiveness and team-orientation. A formal coaching program can help HiPos tap into the existing knowledge base. At the same time, potential leaders can benefit from mentoring sessions by similar people. For example, young women being coached by successful women leaders, to help them overcome specific challenges. 

  • Shadowing leaders: Deriving from the functional know-how and experience of experienced leaders is a great way for aspiring leaders to build a strong foundation. HR must make available formal and informal mentoring forums and processes for employees to shadow existing leaders and learn from them. 

  • Micro learning: Leadership development can no longer be a one-time intervention. Learning on-the-go through interesting learning-snippets is a great way to engage employees to continuous learn- an important competency for sustained leadership. 

  • Mobility: Many millennials are more than happy to work abroad, in search of better opportunities and greater exposure. Leadership-processes must encourage and enable mobility, so as to help young leaders build perspectives on new markets, new businesses, new cultures and societies. 

  • Peer learning: Small, focused and supportive leadership groups are best to create the right impact. Starting small, with a foundational group of people who are already leaders, is a good idea from a buy-in and sustainability viewpoint. 

  • Gamified learning: Encouraging employees to invest in one’s skills should be a fun activity. Gamified modules which focus on competency development can not only grab millennial eyeballs, but can also ensure longer retention through better engagement. 

  • Situational simulations: Virtual reality and augmented reality, though a bit futuristic, are fast catching on as means to enliven real-life situations, and assess and develop competencies through “live experience”. 

HR must make an effort to listen and understand the nitty-gritties of their high potential people, and build the program with a mix-match of the above possible tools and methodologies. 

Lookout areas for LDP

Even an LDP with all these components may fail to achieve its objective. Often, this boils down to a fundamental problem- lack of supporting culture and environment. If employees exhibit a lack of trust in their existing leaders, leadership cannot be built or sustained. It is the job of top leadership  to make employees feel valued. HiPo talent must truly believe that their career and personal aspirations are taken care of, only then can they derive from a sense of trust, and lead from the front. Successful leadership development is therefore, all about driving change with the right cultural tenets- moving away from an inwards-outlook to an outwards, people-centric outlook. HR, as the custodian of culture, must lead the culture-transformation required for this futuristic leadership paradigm to flourish. 

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Topics: Leadership Development, #LeadTheWay

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