Leadership Re-Imagined – Why the lessons of the Past Are Not Enough!

Leadership Re-ImaginedLeadership Re-Imagined: The traditional barriers to entry in nearly every industry have fallen. Even brilliantly innovative ideas, products, and services - no longer secure a company’s competitive advantage. This is the reality of information diffusion and global commoditization. The new competitive edge is neither a product nor a service; it is the people who make them. While innovations can be replicated …innovators cannot.

The new barrier to entry is a cadre of leaders in an organization who inspire innovation as a way of life at every level and who can develop more leaders like them. To develop such a cadre of leaders, companies need to adopt three specific leadership tenets:

  • The ratio of leaders to employees has inverted
  • Old skills and competencies are insufficient for leadership effectiveness
  • Traditional programs for leadership development have become irrelevant

The ratio of leaders to employees has inverted

Let’s assume the following:

  • You define a leader in an organization as:  any individual who can further that organization’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others.
  • Many, if not most, activities that do not involve the influencing of human behavior can be performed by technology.

Those being true, then most of the people in your organization are capable, in some way or another, of furthering the organization’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others. The majority of your employees then, should be developed and managed as if they were leaders.

No longer are your leaders restricted to the C-suite or even the top 200 or 500. The majority of employees are probably leaders and can further your company’s objectives by influencing others whether internally or externally. Apple gets this, many other companies do as well – but not all.

Microsoft’s attempt to emulate Apple’s wildly successful retail stores didn’t seem to be working all that well when I took a walk through the Century City Shopping Mall in Los Angeles last week. The Apple store was teaming with excited shoppers; Microsoft’s attractive, large new store was empty except for its team of assistants standing by, waiting. Microsoft staffs its stores with competent salespeople, I am sure. But Apple staffs its stores with inspired leaders who know they are expected to further Apple’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others. These objectives go beyond “the next sale;” they are more about growing the Apple brand and co-opting new Apple fans. Appreciating the ratio of leaders to employees in your company is key to its growth.

Professor Bill George of Harvard Business School writes in his insightful February 17th article, A New Era For Global Leadership Development, that: “Rather than concentrating on the top 50 leaders, global companies need to develop hundreds, even thousands, of leaders comfortable operating in a variety of cultures…. IBM’s former chief learning officer recently estimated that IBM will need 50,000 leaders in the future.”

Skills and competencies are insufficient for leadership effectiveness

Traditional leadership competencies do not equip leaders for a global environment of accelerated change. Today’s leaders manage in paradox and for this they need agility, tenacity and unwavering values. They need the stature to connect with and challenge people simultaneously, inspire trust; and ignite innovation.

Great leaders won’t cut it any more. We need great human beings in leadership positions.

Some of the leadership paradoxes to optimizing existing operations while preparing for a future even they cannot imagine are:

  •  A business-unit focus …with an enterprise vision.
  • Authentic self-insight …with the cultural intelligence to adapt to different cultures and generations.
  • Inspiring innovation …while driving efficiencies.
  • Manage traditional lines of accountability …while embracing complex multinational, multi-functional and multi-cultural matrices.

Traditional methods of leadership development have become irrelevant

We need new thinking about leadership development. We need to grow people’s characters not just their competencies and help them achieve results by using their personal stature more than their positional status. Above all, if most of our employees are to be developed and managed as leaders, our training must produce leaders who know how to develop and manage other leaders – many of them – leaders of different generations and of different cultures.

Hours of classroom training yield limited returns. Exposing leaders to best practice and current thought leadership at best makes them as good as others. Business simulations sharpen leaders’ minds but do nothing for their stature and character.  Your leadership development architecture should be as innovative as your product development and indigenous to your own culture. It should focus on character not on competencies;  it is only through growing leadership character that you build leadership prowess.

Audit your current thinking on leadership development by asking yourself and your team 5 questions:

  • How do we define a leader in our organization?
  • What ratio of leaders to employees do we consider our company to have?
  • Is the way we develop our leaders as innovative as the way we develop our products and services?
  • Is our leadership development now, radically different from our older paradigms of thought?  How different is it from the programs of our competitors and peers?
  • Can our leadership development architecture become our competitive advantage going forward, and how easy would it be for others to copy us?

You might have a unique opportunity now to re-imagine your philosophy of leadership, re-engineer your leadership development, and forever set your company apart from its competitors.

Lets keep the conversation flowing. What do think about these new paradigms of leadership and the importance of innovation in leadership? Please leave a comment below.

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Comments

  1. Thank you David to stress this very important insight in such an understandable way.

    Joan

  2. Every now and then, an article comes along that inspires me. This one does. It speaks eloquently to the changing shape of leadership.

  3. On point! very useful.

  4. David, excellent post!

    I would add "Adaptability… focusing on the achievement of enterprise goals while simultaneously processing signals from different sources that may necessitate a change to the current direction" to the "leadership paradoxes" you cited. You alluded to this when you wrote: "Authentic self-insight …with the cultural intelligence to adapt to different cultures and generations." However, adaptability also includes being able to respond and adapt to dynamic market changes.

    As Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler wrote in "Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage" @ http://hbr.org/2011/07/adaptability-the-new-competitive-advantage/ar/1, "Increasingly, managers are finding that [competitive advantage] stems from the 'second-order' organizational capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things."

    Leaders must not only be capable of adapting, to include working in different cultures, but they must also communicate and instill an adaptable culture in their organizations.

    Lastly, organizations that rely on "classroom training" to produce leaders will, as you correctly point out, see "limited returns." Short of developing immersive leader development environments like some of our larger corporations and our military, organizations should focus on establishing strong effective mentoring programs that are a combination of mentoring down (think leadership skills) and mentoring up (think information technology skills).

  5. David, excellent post!

    I would add "Adaptability… focusing on the achievement of enterprise goals while simultaneously processing signals from different sources that may necessitate a change to the current direction" to the "leadership paradoxes" you cited. You alluded to this when you wrote: "Authentic self-insight …with the cultural intelligence to adapt to different cultures and generations." However, adaptability also includes being able to respond and adapt to dynamic market changes.

    As Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler wrote in "Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage" @ http://hbr.org/2011/07/adaptability-the-new-competitive-advantage/ar/1, "Increasingly, managers are finding that [competitive advantage] stems from the 'second-order' organizational capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things."

    Leaders must not only be capable of adapting, to include working in different cultures, but they must also communicate and instill an adaptable culture in their organizations.

    Lastly, organizations that rely on "classroom training" to produce leaders will, as you correctly point out, see "limited returns." Short of developing immersive leader development environments like some of our larger corporations and our military, organizations should focus on establishing strong effective mentoring programs that are a combination of mentoring down (think leadership skills) and mentoring up (think information technology skills).

  6. David, great insights you bring forth here.

    Great leaders operate from a “Creative opportunity” paradigm. It looks at the present in future terms. These leaders focus on people and how they can enrich their experiences. Apple has got this, it is not a brand but a movement. The product or service is not an end in itself, Apple has leaders in its users. Leadership development is continuous at all levels, from the C-suite to the end-user.

    Traditional leaders, on the other hand, live in “Loss aversion” mode. As much as they may be an authority in their field, there is fear of losing previous gains. Focus is on the product and not on the people it is meant to serve. In this scenario, leadership development takes backstage. The new leaders may compromise “our position”.

  7. Insightful article, David! Your spotlight on CHARACTER spoke to me. In recent years so much of “leadership development” was cut; the human dimensions of leadership have often been trumped with profit priorities. Really liked envisioning “leaders who know how to develop and manage other leaders – many of them – leaders of different generations and of different cultures.” Thank you!

    Best…
    Debbe

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Debbe. I am so pleased the ideas found such resonance with you. If you have a chance to read Lead By Greatness where these ideas are further developed and tools are provided, I would love to hear your responses.

      Best

      David

  8. Christina Venter says:

    Thank you “Rabbi” Lapin for this most exciting statement. To lead differently leaders must act differently and think differently about the people they lead. A leader must see from the followers perspective and understand the underlying motives to help the person develop and contribute to his/her maximum potensial.

    • True, Christina. Leaders need to view their teams like their customers in a sense: They are there to serve them and add value to their endeavors and development.

  9. Great article, so much resonates with me: “We need great human beings in leadership positions.” ….. “We need to grow people’s characters, not just competencies.”…. “The majority of employees are probably leaders.”…all so true. Leader development is people development and people development is leader development in the modern world of work. We do need to broaden our notions of what a leader is, what leader development should entail and how we should go about it.
    John

    • So nicely said, John, thank you for that and for resonating so harmoniously with my comments. If you get to read Lead By Greatness, I would love to hear your thoughts.

      Best

      David

  10. That is a great point Kai. We often think that mentors need to be older and and more experienced than we are, but there are many cases where having a younger mentor or coach, would allow one to see things in a way that they might not have not considered.

    • Absolutely, Todd. Remember though, that a 22 year old comes to a new job with 20 years of technology experience that older people need desperately to re-imagine the future, and do not have. In some ways, age and experience is an impediment (in other ways it is vital and valuable).
      Best
      David

  11. Thanks for some greats thoughts! I agree with you that todays leaders need to lead using different methods than earlier. I believe self-discovery and improvement through reflection is one vital step for leaders to handle the changes and the new challenges.
    Your audit questions are great for such reflection. Other such questions may be: * How am I staying current on the new trends? * Which trends are important in my industry (why/why not)? * Who can be my mentor, to help me and inspire me to develop myself and my organization? (Older leaders may want to get one or more young mentors – Gen-Y or even younger – it is amazing how they can teach you stuff!)

  12. Insightful article, David. I fully agree, it’s about everyone being their best every day.

    I do see also that in lots of organizations, this is not a commonly embraced view. What’s your experience, what is needed to move them in the direction you suggest?

    • Thank you for your comment, Hans. I believe that whereas in the past HR or Talent Development could be delegated the responsibility of identifying and implementing development programs, now the C-suite needs to briefly engaged. They need to be engaged in a conversation that ears them to the discovery of how different the needs and competencies are of leaders today and how backward-thinking the company may have been in the past. As soon as they “get” this, I have found a flood-gate of energy unlocking around innovative methodology. Some leaders are simply too dinosauric to make this leap!

      Best

      David

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