Leadership will undergo an evolutionary shift and become more participatory in nature in the next seven years
There is a need for good leaders to move away from functional skills and look towards more people management skills
You have over 35 years of experience in talent development. How do you think it has developed so far and how it will evolve in the coming years?
I see leadership taking an evolutionary shift in the next seven years. The shift is going to be more towards participatory leadership. I think in the past, there was always a leader in charge. Moving forward, we will see more instances of teams with rotational leadership where the leader is going to be the individual who has expertise in that area at that moment. Much of this shift is being driven by social media. If you look at social media be it Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, it doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is or whether you are a fresher or the CEO of the organization; everyone is equal when they are voicing their opinion. We have a whole generation growing up with that level of equality and when they enter the workforce, which is happening now, we will begin to see THE change in the definition of leadership. Leadership is going to be more about influence and guidance than it is today where it is more about selection, vision and decision-making. So I really think we are going to see a lot more changes and there is going to be a complete shift in leadership. We are going to need more motivators and influencers than ever before.
What are the trademark qualities of a good leader?
Today and going forward, the trademark qualities of a good leader is that one that is shifting away from functional skills and focusing more on their relationship skills. How well a leader builds relationships and maintains those with all stakeholders is the most critical thing. Until now, leaders have done an excellent job building relationships with their customers and investors but not with their employees. It is going to be very critical and essential for the future to build mutually respected relationships with employees, where employees feel empowered, encouraged and motivated. Millennials are very fickle in their loyalty to companies. The minute they arrive in one, they are already looking to move into another company. What is going to keep them is not going to be the work anymore because they can get work in a multitude of places. There are countless opportunities available. What will retain them is the presence of leaders who can build relationships, align and work with them. Those who can’t recognize that will see increasing turnover and a war for talent that is going to bog down their profitability and their ability to be competitive.
Do you think leadership is something that can be taught or is it more intuitive?
I think it is definitely that can be taught. For many years, people thought otherwise. There are two kinds of leadership: Business Leadership and People Leadership. For many years, people thought that you could teach the skill part of People Leadership, but not the behavior. However, I have been doing a lot of work with The Leadership Challenge, based on the book by the same name written by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. Their work dates back to the early 1980’s when they identified 30 leadership behaviors. It is based on the premise that leadership and behavior is learnable, teachable and observable. It can be taught and learnt. The way it can be taught and learnt because others are continuously observing your behavior. Feedback can come from multiple means including 360 degree assessment feedback data, where people are ready to give anonymous feedback and the leader has an opportunity to see how often others have observed their behavior. For example, in the Leadership Challenge Workshop that we conducted in India, one of the things that was discussed was how often do others see you communicating effectively or recognizing the contribution of others? How often do they see you inspiring others and helping others understand the value they will get by joining you on the mission that you laid out? By consistently seeking feedback on these key behaviors you will know whether you are doing it often enough and that is teachable part.
You talked about trust and integrity. How important are these two attributes in a business establishment?
Trust and integrity are two of the most critical components in life, not just business because if you’ve broken the trust once, then you’ve broken it forever as people will always be suspicious of everything you do. I think leaders are short-sighted and don’t realize this. They tend to think people will forget such instances, but people are like elephants when it comes to things like trust and integrity. Gallup research has shown that people join companies but they leave leaders. What the leader forgets is that for the rest of the employee’s life, they will be asked “What was it like to work for the company” or “Who did you work for in that company”. They can either provide them with the best advertising or the worst advertising.
In that sense, how important is an exit interview? How an employee exits the organization is impactful and is actually led by the business leader?
I think the exit interview is extremely important. However, I think the questions that are asked are the wrong questions. For example, one of the most common questions that are asked is “Why did you decide to leave?” By the time someone comes for the exit interview, they have already made up their story about why they decided to leave. “I’ve decided to leave because of family issues, or a job that is paying me more money, or I got a promotion.” The question HR leaders should be asking is “What happened that caused you to update your resume?” Whatever motivated them to update the resume is the real reason why they are leaving the company.
Organizations should not to wait for the exit interview. On a quarterly basis, they could do surveys to find out how satisfied employees are and the question on the survey should be “What do we need to do to keep you happy and continue working in this company?” and then actually do something about it. It is not about giving into the employees’ whims and fancies but it will give you a bird’s eye view of where are the big issues in the organization.
What are the hallmark qualities of a leadership development program?
It should be a program that helps leaders develop the maturity very quickly and help them develop a sense of calm under pressure. I think the most important thing that a leadership development program could do is to grow and sustain the maximum relationships in the organization. These relationships will, in turn, help the company be more successful. Once they develop their people skills, they should develop their skills in Business Leadership areas such as business acumen and management skills. Individuals are measured on their functional and capability skills, but as leaders they are measured on the basis of their people skills.
You’ve written a book called “Leadership Without Borders” where you have focused on what behaviors global business leaders should have. What would those behaviors be?
Those behaviors center on the need for leaders who work in the global paradigm and through interviews with successful leaders we found that the best leaders are leading with influence rather than directing. This is especially important when you move from one culture to the next. Many times leaders expect that people around them adapt to their style. However, the “Leadership Without Borders” research showed that the most successful leaders actually adapt to the style of the people around them no matter where you send them in the world. They will use their curiosity and their abilities to learn and influence the people around them rather than directing them.
You have worked in Satyam which is now Tech Mahindra for four years. How has the experience being working in an Indian MNC?
It was an excellent experience for me living and working in India. I also spent a year working in HCL Technologies and have consulted with many companies including UST Global, Apollo Tyres, and Larsen & Toubro. Leaders in Indian companies are extremely open to learning. They have a natural curiosity. Most of the companies I’ve worked with have customers outside of India and hence have global influence and perspectives. On the shadow side, I believe that a lot more progress can be achieved with middle management and how they manage their employees. We take people with great functional skills and technical knowledge then put them in management roles without enough focus on people skills. We need to help them to understand the important of focusing on their relationships with people. They need training and mentorship on how to transition to the new paradigm for leadership which is more about nurturing, coaching and teaching staff. This is gap I have seen not just in India but in many countries as well.