Leadership is all about context
John R. Ryan is a retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral and joined CCL’s Board of Governors in 2002 and became its President in 2007. As the President and CEO of CCL, Ryan directs the operations of CCL, supported by more than 600 faculty members and staff at 10 campus locations in Asia, Europe and North America. Prior to becoming President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), John Ryan was Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY), the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States. Before assuming that post in 2005, Ryan served as President of SUNY Maritime College and as interim President of the University at Albany. From 1998 to 2002, he was the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. A former pilot, Ryan also commanded squadrons in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East during a 35-year career in the military.
CCL has been long been providing transformational leadership solutions to organizations and leaders. How does CCL strategize for itself to be able to do that for other organizations?
One of the things that we, as leadership experts, focus on is building our own capabilities to understand the future needs of the organizations and leaders alike so that we deliver those solutions to them and give them customized, real-time development insights and strategies to support their growth. And one of the ways in which we do this is through our commercialization and innovation unit, which tests ideas using cutting-edge methodologies, theories, analytics, and evaluation to provide the best evidence-based solutions for business challenges and opportunities while furthering our field. For example, we have CCL Compass, which brings an assessment report to life and provides a quick visual reference of assessment data as well as customized, real-time development tips and strategies to support growth goals.
CCL has a robust focus on technology, data, and digitization, and I am really excited about the pace with which we are moving into the future. We focus on helping clients become future-ready, people-centric, techno-centric/techno-capable, and market-ready. In a nutshell, what we try to do is filter our research, take the most prominent elements, make bets on them, take them through an agile organizational system and then see and map the changes that this work brings.
While working on transforming the operating models of organizations to the desired operating business models, what is the one detrimental factor that you come across?
One of the starkest things we face is creativity bias. Many say that they celebrate innovation and creativity. But when given a choice between something that is comfortable and a modest iteration versus something that is really creative, they almost always choose the modest iteration. That is because human beings don’t like uncertainty. This creativity bias is just like any other cognitive bias that we have. It means we really have to work on organizational cultures to overcome it and that is where the main challenge is — in building a culture that embraces leadership and innovation.
Leaders ‘make the future’ at every level, and for the best leaders, the real obligation is to bring out the potential in others
How can culture and leadership expectations be linked to talent management processes?
Every market, every client, every culture has different expectations. And leadership is all about context. But the critical question is: how do you evaluate people? You can’t evaluate people on just efforts. You have to evaluate them on outcomes.
In our case, when we talk about commercialization and innovation, we also expect failures to happen. Failures bring us back to where we started and force us to ask questions. We listen to clients and then test our solutions again, change things and design great solutions again. And in all this, the talent part is the most critical thing. You need to have people who are risk-takers, and who have specialized skills. For example, research says high-potentials have great cognitive abilities, and are socially and emotionally intelligent. But what really makes a HiPo a HiPo is the ‘drive’. The ‘drive’ is what enables women and men to use their cognitive and emotional intelligence fully.
So, how can organizations ignite this drive in leaders or people?
Great leaders bring out the potential in others. There are leaders who are ‘diminishers’, where it’s all about them. And then there are leaders who say “I need your best thoughts and I am counting on you.” These are the leaders that enable other people to blossom. The best leaders have a sense of humility. They let others run the game and in the process challenge them too. At the end of this, the mental map gets bigger and we become more capable of growing vertically. So leaders make the future at every level. For the best leaders, the real obligation is to bring out the potential of the men and women they have the privilege to lead.
What do you think is different and unique when you look at the Asia-Pacific region in terms of the requirements of the clients you serve and the context?
What I learned back in the 1980s is that there is no such thing as Asia. It is a unique group of countries with very different cultures. And I believe that diversity needs to be celebrated. In India, for example, our research shows that leaders are highly strategic and the maturity of many of the women and men in leadership positions is very impressive. But in many cases in the region, organizations haven't invested in leadership development, which makes over fifty percent of first-time leaders ineffective. Asia's economy is growing very fast, so leadership is crucial. Unprepared leaders lead to a lack of engagement and turmoil. The organizations that will continue to grow well into the future are the ones with leaders who consistently focus on developing leaders at all levels in their organizations. As a result of this development focus, these organizations will continue to attract and retain talent, improve organizational culture, increase their agility and continuously improve their bottom-line.