Embrace New Leadership Programs to Survive in Disruptive Markets
During the last few years, we have seen many companies giving much greater attention to leadership development programs. This is because many markets are undergoing rapid, highly disruptive change that demands different and better leadership. The smart companies are realizing that the leadership that got them to their past success is not going to be effective in the new conditions. These companies also are realizing their leadership development models are out of date. As a result, they are investing in new leadership development approaches that are designed to build the talent required to lead in these highly volatile and challenging environments.
There is hardly a market that is not undergoing disruptive change. Technology is being disrupted by mobile computing, health care by the Affordable Care Act, and oil production by fracking and the steep decline in global prices. Even markets once thought incredibly stable such as taxis and hotel rooms are disrupted by Uber and Airbnb.
These changes have put new pressures on leadership. Many organizations optimized their leadership for the previous, more stable environments, becoming very good at operating in these markets. But the intense, narrow specialization that produces great success in stable markets is a problem in volatile ones.
One aspect of Darwinism is that over-specialization leads to decline of a species because the species is less able to adapt to changes in the environment. In the old world, good planning and analysis and conservative decision-making yielded good results. In the new world, there is limited information, little time to analyze, and conservative decision-making means you will be out of business seemingly in an instant.
Emerging Leadership Requirements
Some companies facing this situation have begun to rethink their approach to leadership development. They realize leadership that generated extraordinary results in the past is ill equipped to lead in today’s volatile environments. They realized their leaders weren’t effective at leading transformational change (because, previously, change was only incremental and not very threatening) or at making decisions where there was considerable uncertainty and complexity (because, previously, the environment was stable and predictable).
But they also realized they couldn’t just simply fire their leadership team or stop running the current business as that was the engine of ongoing financial stability. They needed to find a way to migrate their current leadership to develop new and challenging attitudes and behaviors without undermining current revenues. They needed to disrupt their leadership and their leadership development programs every bit as much as their markets were being disrupted—which is a scary notion for executives, trainers, and everyone else in the organization—without overly disrupting the organization.
Transformational Leadership Programs
One of the obvious implications is that many leadership programs aren’t sufficient, which means organizations need to develop programs that better support these requirements. Traditional leadership development programs that were mainly intense boot camps, sometimes mixed with half-hearted mentoring programs, were insufficient for the needs
There are typically three core elements in these leadership development methodologies:
- Set-the-Bar: A three-day workshop in which leaders who already display some aspects of transformational leadership define a model of great transformational leadership for the “messy real world” of their unique environment.
- Launch: A six-hour launch session that uses social learning to guide prospective leaders to become highly motivated to lead in conditions of great uncertainty and complexity.
- Guided Practice: A five-month program in which the prospective leaders do one to two exercises per week—that they discuss with their social learning group—that require them to make real decisions when there is incomplete information and low predictability and then actually lead significant transformations.
- These programs usually include seven developmental areas:
- Self-directed Learning: Develops the ability to be a great self-directed learner. This is essential because being a fast, effective learner is critical for keeping up with rapid changes and to modeling for others in the organization openness to new ideas.
- Reflective Learning: Develops the ability to be thoughtful, particularly when there are many daily pressures and much uncertainty. This is a fundamental capability for working smarter in a complex world.
- Passionate Purpose: Guides the prospective leader to identify and articulate in a compelling way an important opportunity for transformational change, including aligning with the organization’s strategy, global emerging market trends, and personal passion. This includes building a business case for a change that often has real costs but an uncertain impact.
- Building Consensus: Develops the ability to build an organizational consensus around the disruptive opportunity identified in the previous step. Guides learners to build networks of mutual benefit and deep commitment
- Deep Preparation: Develops the ability to define a plan for converting the opportunity into reality. This is where transformational leadership tends to encounter the greatest barriers as now the organization has to commit to the change by stopping work in support of the older business in favor of resources allocated to the new, uncertain business.
- Transformational Culture: Develops the ability to understand and proactively drive the culture to be change resilient. Leaders learn to build a culture that embraces uncertainty and new ideas as great opportunities (rather than as threats)
- Extraordinary Execution: When all of this is completed, the leaders learn to drive a transformational change through the organization. This includes managing metrics and management that are frequently hostile to the new business models and processes because they support the old world, not the demands of the new world.
Naturally, there is considerable resistance to these approaches because they are so disruptive both to leadership of the organization and the Learning function. Imagine, though, that you are the leadership of a taxi company, a big box retailer, or a hospital. This is truly a time of “change or die.” Your choice is: develop your own transformational leadership abilities or die.
William Seidman, Ph.D., is the CEO of Cerebyte, Inc., a company focused on creating high-performing organizational cultures. He can be reached at William.firstname.lastname@example.org