Is It Time for New Leadership Models?

The World Economic Forum sees the new leadership models centering on emotional capacity, intellectual and cognitive development, and the depth of social relationships.

By Stacey Harris, Vice President, Research and Advisory Services, Brandon Hall Group

The global workforce is changing substantially. Millennials in the workforce have almost tripled in the last six years, according to several surveys, and are on course to comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2030.

Workers of tomorrow are not easily put in a box, typecast, or classified. They will expect much more than previous generations from both their work and personal environments. Business leaders can simply prepare for change—but those who embrace and utilize the coming changes can create a short-cut to a future of possibilities.

Are our business leaders prepared, not only for the challenges of today, but the even more complex challenges of tomorrow?

Early this year, Brandon Hall Group conducted a survey that asked business leaders where they planned to invest time, resources, and funding for 2013.

More than 50 percent of the organizations said leadership and management strategies were one of their top priorities this year. More than 23 percent of learning organizations stated their top program priorities would be leadership development or supervisory training. For the last 10 years, organizations continuously have placed updating or implementing new leadership development programs at the top of their priority lists.

If most organizations feel a lack of leadership is holding them back from greater revenues and gaining market share, and each year we continue to spend more on leadership development to the tune of up to $20 billion annually, then why isn’t it working?

You can point to the Baby Boomer retirement cliff, or the layers of leadership lost over a two-year period due to the recession. But an alternative answer is that we need new and improved leadership models to address the real changes taking place in our political, work, and social environments.

We are beginning to see the first steps toward understanding that strong leadership isn’t as much about building better development programs as it is about changing the definition of leadership roles.

Here is a quick look at what’s driving the push for new leadership models and where that push is leading organizations.

A Leadership Example?

Ron Johnson, former CEO of JC Penney, took over 19 months ago amid expectations that his unique leadership style would invigorate the brand and shake up an organization that was in desperate need of a fresh start.

Unfortunately for Johnson and his supporters, the transition from leading a successful Apple retail brand to the established JC Penney brand was more difficult than expected. Just after JC Penney announced Q4 results that had same-store sales dropping a staggering 32 percent along with a plunge in stock prices by 50 percent, Johnson stepped down on April 8. Decreasing same-store sales metrics affect operating budgets, purchasing plans, and workforce schedules. Combine that with a lack of trust from the financial market, and you have a perfect storm toward leadership replacement.

There has been a lot of conversation about what went wrong. Were JC Penney’s board and shareholders unrealistic about what it would take for a real turnaround? Was it a mistake to go outside the organization to look for new leadership? Was it simply a poor hiring decision? Was it not having a strong bench strength of leaders who could provide real counsel for Johnson on engaging with JC Penney audiences, both new and existing?

This is just one of many recent examples of high-profile brands that have lost critical ground in today’s competitive market due to perceived leadership issues. JC Penney is following in the footsteps of notable organizations such as RIM and Best Buy, which chose to focus inward versus outward.

The real question may not be whether the leaders were good or bad, prepared, or given enough time, but whether the leadership models advocated for many years were appropriate for the situations.

Global Leadership Models

The World Economic Forum has created a Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership to address this issue. The WEC believes that significant demographic and societal changes, technological advances, and continuous globalization, along with resource scarcity, will define the emerging leadership models. It sees the new leadership models centering on emotional capacity (values, self-awareness, and authenticity), intellectual and cognitive development (creativity, innovation, systems thinking), and the depth of social relationships (community building, alliances, and collaboration).

Business-Focused Leadership Model

Rebecca Shambaugh, founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, points out that past leadership models rarely are linked to success in today’s environment. She puts forth the need for a balanced and integrated leadership model to succeed in today’s business world.

Workforce Leadership Models

Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London Business School, recently wrote a compelling book, The Shift: The Future of Work Is Already Here, that outlines the need for a workforce comprising highly specialized masters, innovative connectors, and impassioned producers. In her model, the workforce of the future become experts in their own right and need to lead the work in order to engage both them and the businesses they work within. People will begin to cycle in and out of leadership roles that meet their needs and the business needs.

 Personal Leadership Models

James Scouller’s The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Knowhow and Skilladdresses more traditional leadership models, such as situational leadership, action-centered leadership, and traits- and behavior-based leadership models. He combines the lessons from these models into a new model based on building a leadership presence. Often called the 3P model, it defines the three levels of public, private, and personal self-mastery. The focus is on building trusting relationships with followers and implementing circumstantial behaviors.

Factors that all these variations on leadership models have in common:

  • There is a major shift taking place in our world that requires us to break the mold, and create something new.
  • The workforce and consumer markets will have an impact on future leaders’ success—either through direct or indirect social influence.
  • Successful leadership models of the future probably will include a focus on trust, diversity, and community building.
  • Modern workforces are looking for leadership models that are cyclical and flexible—versus hierarchical and structured—allowing people to share their unique leadership capabilities when they are needed most.

The question is, are business leaders ready to shift resources from traditional leadership models that show evidence of not working? Will they invest in building cyclical leadership models or contextualized leadership approaches? Will they be willing to break old patterns and find something new and better inside the chaos?

Stay tuned.

Stacey Harris is vice president of Research and Advisory Services for Brandon Hall Group, a research and analyst group serving the performance improvement industry, with more than 10,000 clients globally. Brandon Hall Group has an extensive repository of thought leadership research and expertise in its primary research portfolios—Learning and Development, Talent Management, Sales Effectiveness, Marketing Impact, and Executive Management. At the core of its offerings is a Membership Program that combines research, benchmarking, and unlimited access to data and analysts. Members have access to research and connections that help them make the right decisions about people, processes, and systems, coalesced with analyst advisory services tailored to help put the research into daily action. For more information, visit


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