When we think about leadership an obvious question that comes to mind is are leaders born or are they made? Are leaders a product of nature or nurture? It could be easy to argue for both sides and then summarise by saying it is a combination of both. The age old argument settled by the easy way out and it would be true that some may be more suited inherently to roles in leadership because of their natural preferences.
But on the other side of the debate Leaders can be made and generally any leaders we thought were born to lead were probably a by-product of experience rather than pure talent. Yes some people like barking orders and their behavioural style may be more suited to being in control. But as we know in the sophisticated digital world we now live in that does not make a great leader nor is it a demonstration of great leadership. Leadership is now so much more than this especially when we are living in an age where we are questioning what it means to be human.
Leadership in a Human World
Leadership can be defined not as a role but by the actions one takes, the decisions one makes, and the behaviours one role models. We are all leaders and we can stand out for the right or the wrong reasons based on our understanding of what good looks like when it comes to leadership and the behaviours we demonstrate. One of the best quotes on leadership is from Tom Peters, 'True leaders don't create followers they create more leaders' and in the times we now live people expect to be treated like a leader, absolutely not a subordinate, or a follower, or a person's job title. They desire freedom, autonomy, the opportunity to be creative and feel like they are making a difference. They are allowed to have and understand their purpose as.leaders in their own right. And as leaders we facilitate the process of understanding the whole person and helping them grow personally and professionally. It's actually about taking a genuine interest.
Because a trap any one can easily fall into with people when leading is treating people as objects or like a task rather than as human beings. Because we project manage our work it is easy to then treat people like a project and not as a person. This in itself is a great reason for why it is important we define what success looks like for leadership for leaders. Leaders then have a shared understanding of what good looks like.
The fundamental point is that leadership can be defined and therefore designed which means we can create a definition of what good looks like in the form of success factors for any organisation aligned to their business strategy. This is about assessing the organisations past conditioning, current strategy and vision for the future.
Competencies versus Success Factors
Ok so some may say we already have this as we have competencies now for every role and every job. We have core competencies, functional competencies and technical competencies which define the aspects required to do each role and we may have a model made up of leadership competencies. From a recruitment perspective gaining an understanding of the key requirements of role competencies are fundamental to be able to assess candidates and for ongoing management of performance. CIPD reveals that 60% of employers have a competency framework in place for their organisation.
This framework normally will form part of their performance management system even though now most organisations are starting to move away from traditional performance ratings to a more softer approach based on value add to the organisation, career conversations and a person's development growth. It will be fascinating to see how competencies are used within these new ways of working across different organisations when it comes to managing performance in the years to come. In the future gig leadershipwill become the norm along with movement between roles happening more frequently and with the ever increasing rate of change with new types of job created being created competencies will quickly become outdated.
Also the traditional 360 tool over the years has focused on job or leadership competencies to assess performance and provide feedback but used more from a 'fixing weaknesses' perspective which can be very de-motivating to any leader. Especially as we are seeing a move towards a strengths based approach and philosophy when it comes to 360 or at least focused on stretching strengths as well as development areas. There is nothing worse than when an individual gets a report with no coaching conversation or the conversation with their manager is about fixing weaknesses to make them better rather than focusing on their strengths and what they do well. When focusing on weaknesses although important at times as we now know can be very demotivating whereas focusing on strengths leaves employees engaged, enthused and motivated to do their role. Especially with a leaders approach genuinely focused on the whole person and their career aspirations.
So competencies are obviously a good thing to ensure that an individual understands what the key requirements are to do a role, for organisational job structures, future planning and they help in earnest in shaping an understanding of what good looks like. But competencies are not always easy to relate to from a behavioural perspective nor do they inspire people to be their absolute best. This is where leadership success factors come in to play because they are based on defining what good looks like for leadership but are much more relatable than competencies because people can see how they derive from other people's success as well as their own.
The Importance of Understanding and Relating to Success
When people identify with success from their heroes they are more likely to relate to what it takes to be successful. So Tiger Woods resilience through injury to comeback to win another masters, Roger Federer's self-belief to keep going at his age and win another Masters or as with the last couple of nights the amazing success both Liverpool and Spurs have demonstrated in belief and not giving up. We can easily see what it takes and what it means to be successful if we analyse it and define success. From these individuals, teams or managers we can understand the leadership success factors that make success possible.
So if we focus on the greatest leaders, sports, and business people we will see the same type of success factors such as aspiration, drive, belief, resilience as examples which we allget, relate to and understand. Therefore we are focusing on success rather than capability but we accept capability will obviously play a part in anyone's success. But what we have is a language that all people understand which we use to define what good looks like. It is the process of leadership by design.
Naturally there are different ways to define and then design these success factors dependent upon the nature of whether it is for leadership, sports, business, schools, universities or any other profession but the overall essence is the same which people can relate to so in general success factors like EQ and Resilience are totally transferable and relatable across the spectrum of industries and professions.
Building Leaders for the Future Today
In an organisation who recently applied leadership success factors engagement increased by 40% over a four year period because executive and leadership development were aligned to the business strategy and leaders understood their leadership expectations through their leadership success factors. The leadership development strategy was then based on those leadership success factors to provide responsive, innovative and experiential development based on their leaders shared understanding. What is key is that leaders do relate to leadership success factors and they can be combined with competencies that are important to the organisation if required.
Also leadership success factors are future focused which is essential in an ever changing world and to be able to future proof leaders. You define what good looks like for leadership in the future and you start developing it now.
Having the right leadership architecture in place for your organisation is essential as a product of leadership by design if you want to future proof your leaders and ensure you thrive during these times of uncertainty and change. And although there is much more to creating a leadership culture the importance of not rushing to solution, not shooting in the dark and having a clear blueprint for leadership is the foundation for success built upon an understanding of success. Because with the right leadership awareness and accountability of this will ensure your leaders can shape the future of your business today.
It was great to present at the University of Westminster Human Resource Management Conference on building a leadership culture. The event is sponsored by 10Eighty and their CEO Michael Moran chaired the event and the aim of the event is the inspire as well as provide insight into the world of HR. More importantly to provide speakers who can provide thoght provoking content on trends in the HR space.
Cristina Tomas from PwC talked on leveraging reverse mentoring to faster inclusion and engagement in the workplace. Hannah Moran talked about playing to your strengths and the benefits of using strengths to help manage your career introducing Strengthscope 360 to the students. The brilliant Jonathan Tear talked about 'Being the Leader you want to see.' sharing his disability and telling his inspirational story on what is possible even when you can't see. And Stuart Henderson from Together Housing Group talked about leading large scale structural transformation to maximise efficiencies.
I was then able to conclude by talking on how to build a leadership culture and provide a case study for the students to consider. Afterwards there was opportunity to spend time with students to answer questions and really help them to develop their thinking about what it is they would like to do next and general questions they had about the presentations.
All in all a very satisfying event and great to get the opportunity to provide some insight and food for thought for young minds who will be the leaders of the future.
When we think about all the change in the world we have experienced in the last 20 years and the advances in the fields of technology, AI and automation we are on the cusp of living in a new era the Human Age along with meeting the demands of future generations expectations in the workplace. And when we think of all the change that has happened and is happening round us has leadership evolved at the same pace? Has it kept up with the advances in the world and developed across global organisations? Eddie Obeng describes in the ‘World after Midnight’ at some point around 15-20 years ago there has been a reset point (Midnight) where the rate of human learning is not keeping up with technological change. So is leadership part of this or has leadership evolved in the last 20 years?
When we go back in time to the industrial era we would have seen in general coercive command and control leadership which developed slowly over time to develop a boss worker relationship. This became more progressive with the advent of office working and the discovery of emotional intelligence. EQ brought a new wave of thinking about leadership. The situational leadership model described the way a leader should use different styles dependent upon the situation in simple terms along a spectrum from directive to coaching. Then the advent of the coaching revolution to empower people along with the use of psychometrics was the spark to develop a leaders self-awareness aligned to EQ. More recently in an excellent article by Korn Ferry called the Third Wave the shift is now moving to one of Agency, Authenticity and Agility. And there has been some amazing strategic and innovative leadership especially in the big tech companies like Apple, Amazon and Facebook to name a few but when we look at political leadership have we gone backwards in time?
Recently I read an article on Leadership in the Future where the writer was challenged on where they currently see leadership. The challenger’s point was "I’m not sure what industries you have been working in but I’m still seeing hierarchical, political, command and control leadership across the organisations I partner with."
I guess in some respects we could create a spectrum of leadership and then place organisations across the spectrum as to where their leadership is right now. But then in any business there will be pockets of leaders who inspire, empower and motivate when others use coercive control and power. In a recent Gallup study it is claimed that 50% of employees are not engaged and 25% are disengaged so this in itself provides possible evidence that Leadership is not keeping up with new generational demands of our current workforce. Although I do appreciate there are many factors that can lead to employee dissatisfaction but what we do know is that most people will become disengaged and leave their job due to their manager. I’m pretty sure that if you have an employee survey that each year there will be leadership actions and development that comes from the survey if your workforce feel they can freely speak their mind.
In any medium to large organisation there will be an inertia and level of organisational conditioning which means there will be certain expectations of how to lead in the organisation. These expectations at times become so deeply embedded in the leaders subconscious so much so that no-one has actually made the rule people but believe there to be a rule they need to follow. No one challenges the rule and everyone continues to conform. Action or lack of action is then in direct proportion to conditioning. The senior leadership team role model either exemplary or dysfunctional behaviours which shape the company culture and the by product is the need to lead and manage in the same way to conform to acceptable standards. We are creatures of habit and comfort so rather than choosing to swim upstream most will conform and not challenge dysfunctional behaviours or the culture.
Leaders can at times treat their people like children instead of adults and although they know they should not do this if the rules of work state something different they can execute this against what would be their own personal beliefs. Power and conformity overcomes common sense. Organisational conditioning takes a hold when leaders are not willing to challenge the norm. At a higher level in some board rooms the Exec’s play out a power struggle and some may display more dysfunctional behaviour than the people they have working for them. Sometimes the badge of hierarchy dictates when it should listen. So has leadership progressed now we live in a digital world?
If you were to rate your organisation on the spectrum of leadership where would it be…
0. The Leaders are in control and dictate (Hierarchical command and control Leadership).
1. The Leaders transact with their people (Transactional leadership – I give you something i.e. incentive and you give me something in return).
2. The Leaders inspire and create followers (Transformational leadership – people follow you because they are inspired and want to follow you).
3. Leaders create leaders (Creational Leadership – Leaders give their people the confidence and autonomy to be the leader they are).
4. Leaders empower their people to be the leader they choose to be (Autonomous Leadership – the starting point is people are leaders and have the freedom to lead with autonomy and ideas – it is better to seek forgiveness rather than permission is the set point).
For the day and age that we live in the expectation would be we are playing at the Transformational, Creational and Autonomous Leadership levels where employees are empowered and treated like leaders in their own right. If that is the case then your organisation is possibly keeping up with the rate of change in the world and will be ready to meet the expectations of the generations to come. Because generations in the future will be doing more sophisticated work as AI and automation takes over the manual processes their expectation set point will be to be treated as a leader and given freedom to express themselves. Work in the future is more likely to be episodic so one may move from one organisation to the next more frequently but one's expectation will be to be treated as a leader not as an employee. Josh Bersin from Deloitte talked recently about how the employee and organisation relationship will completely change due to expectations of the generations to come. And HR faces an inflection point around becoming career and people focused as oppose to performance and company focused. But then I don’t want to move to far in to the future because this is about leadership now and understanding if it has evolved to keep up with the rate of change in the present.
So what keeps leaders up at night? Lack of talent, the digital tech space, lack of critical skills, employees lack of digital experience, automation at work and an aging workforce according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends in 2018 so we have to accept that leadership is far more complex than 20 years ago. Especially when leadership was probably face to face line management whereas in this day an age you are a leader as an individual contributor and when responsible for people remote leadership across the globe is now the expectation along with agile working practices. In Mercers trends 96% of executives are planning structural changes this year and unique human skills are most in demand i.e. innovation, digital competence, global mindset, data analysis, complex problem solving, change and inclusive leadership. We also now see a greater talent vacuum where desirable skills in specific niche areas are not readily available and organisations therefore embracing exponential learning to upskill, upgrade and provide development experiences to their employees.
The requirements and expectations of a leader have definitely changed but the question has to be do leaders in your organisation understand what good looks like now? Do you have the right leadership architecture in place to be able to support your leaders for now and in the future? The future is changing everyday.
So what are your thoughts on leadership now and has it evolved in the last 20 years? I would love to discuss with you...
It was great to be asked to speak at FuelX19 at the Brewery in London on 7th February by Michael Moran of 10Eighty and to be part of a line up with Josh Bersin as well as key note speakers from Indeed, E-Bay and Roche. For those who have not heard of Fuel50 they provide an outstanding career and talent experience platform. What does it do?
Well through AI-driven career pathing, Fuel50’s game-changing platform delivers career path transparency to your people, mobilises internal talent supply, and delivers skills-forecasting that drives your workforce of the future. Check out: https://www.fuel50.com
as I highly recommend the platform if you are looking to achieve any of the above.
A highlight from the day was Josh Bersin’s excellent talk which was about “The rise of the individual in the future of work” and about the importance of upskilling, reskilling, reinvention and that talent is the differentiator in the competitive business landscapes. We are 2 years away from organisations being 100% reinvented and we are now seeing the rise of the individual which is turning the employee and company relationship on its head, what will matter most is your people so do whatever you can to help employees grow. Why wouldn’t you when he points out Deloitte predict that reskilling your employees is 1/6th of the cost of a new hire. Understand the ways people want to learn and develop the talent potential of your workforce.
My own talk was on the benefits of using the Fuel50 platform for organisations and also about moving away from the 'inertia' of being a performance rating led organisation to one that is career and development based. We are at an inflection point in HR right now and it is essential that we develop the potential and talent of each individual who works for our organisation so we leave them in a better place whether their future is with us or working elsewhere. I was fortunate to share my ‘case story’ and thoughts on swimming upstream against the inertia of our times and the organisations we work for to do what is right for our people.
This linked nicely with what Jo Mills from Fuel50 talked about at the end of the day which was about the importance of building 'Talent Citizenship'. You develop the talents of your people for the common good and this is about purpose led development on the employee's career agenda. It was certainly an engaging and excellent event where we gained insight in to how organisations have successfully used the Fuel50 Platform to achieve great results across the globe.
And I’m not sure about you but is yours an organisation that has robust career conversations where leaders identify your values, motivations, talents, agility, career pathways and ensure they support your career plan? Or is your organisation stuck in the performance inertia which big organisations create and therefore conform to rather than challenge?
There is definitely an awakening happening right now and where ever you are on the spectrum in your HR transformation ensure you at least take control of your own career. To ensure you are in a role and work for an organisation where you can make the difference that you want and empower your people to do the same…swim upstream against the inertia and we can disrupt together as we go.