Leadership in today’s world is about creating conditions for change in the direction of a desired outcome for the future — from “where an individual or organization is” to “where an individual or organization wants to be”. Traditional definitions of leadership that focus on behaviors in the absence of context or on the individual and do not take into account the interplay between the system and the individual or dynamics between individuals tend to get irrelevant or lead to diffused impact. A recent client conversation demonstrated this change in thinking – the changing needs of the customers and developments in technology that have forced them to rethink who they want to be. The ask they have from us is to support their organization in making this change come to life as they recognize that if the organization is redefining itself, then so will its leaders have to redefine who they want to be, how they want to work and how they will make it happen on the ground.
Not just leadership development
Leadership development needs to be anchored in a leadership strategy that supports the overall business strategy to sustain performance and innovation. The leadership strategy is what will get you there. For example, an organization that wants to transition from a largely wholesale (or B to B) business to a retail model where it is going direct to consumers, will need a leadership strategy that drives that in its leaders – in terms of the skills, abilities, cognitive styles, interpersonal styles and also identity. An organization that seeks to be innovative and disrupt has to create an internal culture of challenge and disruption, only then will it happen outside in the market. This will mean moving beyond the development of individual leaders to being intentional in creating culture, norms and ways of working, and systems that support the new strategy. Thus leadership strategy encompasses intentional design of the leadership capability, interactions, and shared culture that will lead to successful, sustained achievement of business strategy.
Building on the present; anchored in the future
The use of leadership frameworks by organizations to convey organizational expectations to their leaders for driving business success need to reflect the organization’s current reality, and more importantly future aspirations. Before any such framework is laid down, an organization should ask the following questions — how do we want to adapt to the external changes? What are the capabilities and engagements we need for this to materialize? What will constitute the enabling environment or culture? Only once organizations have considered and answered such questions, can they sustain in the long run.
Measurement is more important than ever
For organizations to encourage reshaping the business for future growth they need a continuous examination of the skills and competencies that are required to maneuver in disruptive environments. They constantly need to evaluate if their leaders are fit for purpose as organizations need leaders who actually are able to envision and ride the disruptive changes and generate the kind of followership that is needed to adapt to the change. In such contexts, breadth of experience could be more relevant than depth, potential for future success has more weight than past performance and analytics to constantly measure and adjust strategy and supporting interventions becomes critical.
What can leaders do?
Leaders can take charge of their own development. Self-awareness, intellectual agility and interpersonal flexibility form crucial components of leadership. Does the person have that insight about themselves to understand where their strengths are and where they need support? Can they generate a certain kind of resourcefulness around them to play a leadership role? While we do look for experience, expertise and industry knowledge, the ability to reflect honestly and the ability to have open, genuine, authentic conversations that create feedback in the system form the cornerstones of leadership. Similarly, openness to change and responsiveness to the environment determine a leader’s (and thus the organization’s) ability to stay agile.
(The feature has been compiled from insights shared by Rachna Chawla, Director and Head of YSC India, during an interview.)