Identifying and developing future workplace leaders

The skillsets required of leaders is changing and will continue to evolve for some years to come. The operating conditions induced by VUCA (volatility, unpredictability, complexity and ambiguity) have shaped a new normal and the last 12 months have seen matters further complicated at home by Brexit and by the radically altered political terrain overseas.

Company boards need to safeguard their organisations’ future by establishing a pipeline of leadership talent equipped with the right skills for this new business world. Surveys have consistently indicated in recent years that locating this talent is one of HR’s toughest challenges.

As well as being agents of change, possessing an agile mindset and being strategic thinkers, future leaders must be digitally savvy if their organisations are to flourish in the technological age which is already seeing completely new business models as well as sectors emerge. It is, indeed, a skillset requirement without precedent.

But leaders aren’t the only ones having to evolve to ensure they are fit for purpose for the future. Those charged with finding this talent have to move with the times and to establish new methods to measure and evaluate the step-up potential of individuals.

Big data will increasingly play a part in determining how well an individual will perform when stepping up to an executive-level position. Leading edge companies are collecting and benchmarking data on high-performers which is then used to create profiles that candidates are assessed against and there is no reason why similar technology can’t be used for leadership positions.

Technologies such as predictive analytics, for example, can be used to find out how an individual might perform in a particular role. It could reveal behaviours or potentially derailing personality traits that would have a damaging or demotivating effect on the workforce. Or it could detect a bad fit when it comes to growing or changing an organisation’s culture in a desired direction.

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It isn’t only about technology though but understanding what the leadership challenges of the future will be so skills can be aligned with them. There is a view that traditional leadership development is still too rooted in the individual and too far removed from the challenges that they will likely face in role. Therefore from the outset, assessment and development should be closely aligned with the organisation’s strategic objectives for the next five years.

It is also important to look outside of the organisation to determine what factors will likely influence and impact on it. Globally, businesses are moving towards a culture and climate of ecosystems and complex relationships. This demands far more collaborative styles of leadership. The networked world in which we operate means we are more formally and informally connected than ever before. There is no room for the single heroic leader anymore and neither can organisations operate in silos. Assessing future leaders, therefore, must factor these big picture shifts in.

When former Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down after his final PMQs in the House of Commons, he bowed out with the line: “After all, as I once said, I was the future once.” While it gave the house and those watching at home a laugh, it also serves to sound a cautionary note to everyone in leadership positions now, as well as those responsible for finding and developing future leaders. Just because a skillset fits with the leadership context today, it doesn’t mean it will tomorrow.


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