Organizational leadership is essential for organizations to outperform despite the uncertainties presented by VUCA environments, technological advancements, globalization and the increasing drive for productivity. The Asian market presents very different challenges for leadership development, thanks to its unique economic, political, cultural and social landscape.
The India Context
The business environment in India is very different from the West. The economic forecast is ever-changing, proven by the fact that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has called out an “unexpectedly weak FY2018 outturn”. GDP growth for Q4 (2018-19), has already lowered to 5.8% from the Q3 number of 6.6%. Recently, ADB even lowered India’s growth forecast for this fiscal to 7%, from the earlier predicted 7.2%. Navigating through these tough times requires a robust leadership regime. Yet, the growth potential for business in India has always been touted to be immense! In fact, India has weathered some of the global crises (such as the financial meltdown) well enough, thanks to its ethical and regulatory stronghold, as a people.
Successful leadership in corporate India is not so much about managing the business, but about aptly managing a unique cultural milieu. Influential business leaders have often demonstrated an amalgamation of business leadership, national leadership, and societal leadership. Traditionally, many successful business heads have been proactively leading social and political agendas, stemming from a strong “need for development”*; consider the Nandan Nilekanis of the world! Often, Indian leaders are driven by a mix of “Anglo-American intellect”, and “Indian-ethos driven actioning”*. Unlike the West, Indian executives have been known to practice their values and assimilate them into all spheres of their lives. Interestingly, this is also reflected in the millennial-generation leaders, who do not uphold a distinction between their personal and professional lives but believe in being boundaryless.
Of course, some aspects of corporate leadership need to be improved. Leadership must move away from hierarchical functioning, power positions, and seniority-led movements. We are seeing this shift in pockets, but much remains to be corrected if we wish to leverage the potential of India’s youth for becoming future-ready.
The Talent Impact
The Indian business landscape is a kaleidoscope of global MNC, Indian conglomerates, SMEs and start-ups; all vying for the top talent. This means that the War for Talent is hyper-competitive, and building next-generation leaders to lead from the front, requires new competencies and new outlook. The very fact that the nature of the workforce is changing with millennials becoming mainstream, ups the challenge. Their different aspirations and drivers make it imperative for organizations to rethink traditional leadership development patterns.
Millennials have a top-ranking ambition is to make an impact on society. Traditional ambitions, such as higher salaries and home ownership, rank lower** - Deloitte Millennial Survey 2019
The overall outlook of Indian millennials and Gen Z is the second most optimistic among more than forty countries that participated in the Deloitte survey**. Millennials have expressed confidence about having the necessary future success-skills. Moreover, this workforce believes in inspiring leadership, and not authoritative leadership, because they come from a belief in trust, openness, transparency and honesty.
This is a good starting point, because the confidence to succeed in the future and belief in authentic leadership can form a strong foundation to taking people along the journey. Yet, the perfect leadership solution, lies in balancing the traditional and the new-age workforce.
Building Next-Generation Leadership Programs
Building first-time managers and C-suite executives has become top-priority for HR. The traditional top-down leadership development program (LDP) will not work, because it does not create a sustained environment of confidence, empowerment, enthusiasm and inspiration***. Moreover, the basic leadership traits have changed- future leaders must bring to the table a mix of “soft” and “hard” skills- adaptability, communication, collaboration, inclusion, self-awareness, democratic thinking, vision-building, coaching mindset, business acumen, tech savvy, and so on. HR and L&D leaders must work together to upskill existing high potentials to lead the business:
•Cultivate the right environment: Ingraining a leadership style that is shared, collaborative and authentic requires the right organizational culture. HR must start off with cultivating a strong foundation through value-building- open communication, transparency, personal engagement, honesty, innovation, adaptability, etc. Rethinking and redesigning organizational processes is a must. Leaders must be able to support their people in taking risks and “fail fast”.
•Offer blended learning solutions: Leadership development cannot be relegated to a two-day classroom intervention, being bombarded with chunky learning lectures. L&D must devise a multi-channel, blended-learning approach with employee-friendly learning avenues. High potentials must be able to learn anywhere, anytime, and as per their preferred style. Micro-learning, mobile learning, gamified learning, mentoring and coaching, leadership one-on-ones, ongoing feedback etc. are a must for cultivating sustained leadership. Learning should focus on developing “soft” leadership skills such as communication, accountability, self-awareness etc, as well as develop an in-depth business and strategic acumen.
•Hand-hold with the right resources: Make available the right infrastructure and opportunities such as supporting workflows, learning platforms, geographical mobility, cross-functional teams etc. This may also mean delayering the organization, through restructuring, so that the new era of leaders can thrive on the new ideals.
•Focus on the larger picture for integration: Leadership development modules should focus on helping young professionals understand the larger picture i.e. business strategy and people strategy for both the short term and long term. Exercises that help link the individual purpose to the higher purpose will help young leaders integrate well into their leadership roles.
The way leadership needs to be looked at, must change. Leadership is no longer about “climbing the ladder to attain a position of power”. In fact, the concept of power itself is very much decentralized, and will continue to be so in the future. Leaders must thus cultivate a desire and commitment to truly make a difference, by adding incremental value for business success.