POPin Blog

New Ways to Think About Leadership Development

Businesses are facing major upheavals due to the spread of disruptive technologies, yet most leaders are not adapting their approaches to problem-solving in this new environment, according to an extensive research study by Nick Petrie, senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Petrie spent a one-year sabbatical at Harvard University to study the future of leadership development, in which he interviewed a broad range of business leaders, scholars and management consultants. The study concludes that leaders will need to adopt more complex forms of thinking by becoming more collaborative, self-aware and adaptable. For instance, many leaders still address new challenges by relying on nearby colleagues who are in the same office, or in close physical proximity. They fail to take advantage of online collaboration tools and mobile apps that could tap available talent from globally dispersed team members. As a result, the leaders do not get the best available collaborators, and the outsiders suffer from a lack of direct leadership development. The study also found that many employees believe that leadership development should be the responsibility of their managers. Yet the study concludes that leadership development is actually the personal responsibility of each employee. To get ahead, leaders should become more curious and more active by asking colleagues for advice about the best paths for advancement. The report also found that the top management skill cited by CEOs is an employee’s creativity and the ability to manage change. Critical adaptive skills include having the mental agility to learn, unlearn and relearn new ideas. Another requisite leadership skill involves building up the necessary emotional intelligence to adapt to new circumstances and situations. Important related skills include self-confidence and strategic thinking. The business environment has become so much more complex, volatile and unpredictable in recent years that leadership development must adapt to keep pace. Petrie highlights these four key trends for the future of leadership development:
  • More focus on vertical leadership development. Horizontal development involves increasing competencies in a particular job role, which remains vital. But the new approach also emphasizes vertical development, in which leaders make progress through subsequent stages of personal advancement. Today’s limited horizontal development mindset must give way to the vertical development of bigger minds.
  • Transfer of developmental ownership to the individual. People develop fastest when they are made to feel responsible for their own progress, rather than relying on their mentors, managers and trainers. As a result, reward systems should be realigned to emphasize staff development as well as job performance.
  • Promoting collective leadership over individual leadership. In the old paradigm, leadership was transferred from one person or role to their successor. The new viewpoint sees leadership as a collective process spread out across networks of people and roles. The goal is to engrain leadership more deeply throughout an organization to further democratize management. These days, leadership is increasingly seen as a form of social progress that engages an organization, so it makes less sense to invest exclusively in the skills of individual leaders.
  • Increased emphasis on innovations for leadership development. To remain competitive, organizations should continually experiment by combining diverse ideas in new ways, and by applying collaborative tools to share those ideas with others. Leadership development networks will need to increase the number of perspectives they bring together by engaging new outside stakeholders who can offer fresh ideas for transformative innovations.
“Technology and the web will both provide the infrastructure and drive the change,” writes Petrie. “Organizations that embrace the change will do better than those who resist it.”