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Building the Leader of the Future

To be successful, your company’s future leaders may need to abandon the very behaviors that propelled them to the top. A recent report highlights the global trends you can use today to prepare the leaders of tomorrow.

October 20, 2011
Related Topics: Talent Acquisition, Succession Planning, Recruiting, Talent Acquisition, Succession Planning

Don’t try to be a hero. That’s the message for leaders from recent research conducted by management consulting firm Hay Group.

The new world order — rapidly changing business environments and information overload — means organizations need to adapt their culture, systems and processes to survive. To cope, leaders of the future should adopt a “post-heroic” leadership style focused on intellectual openness and collaboration.

“It’s not that person standing up and saying ‘I have the solutions, you guys follow me,’” said Signe Spencer, a senior consultant with Hay Group. “It’s saying, let’s all sit down at the table and figure this out.”

Spencer said the leaders of the future realize that the value they bring isn’t necessarily in their own knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s in being something like a good cocktail host, bringing out other people’s ideas and insights and making connections between them.

“It’s a whole different set of competencies. Instead of orienting vertically, hierarchically in silos … it’s about how can I bring people together, how can I be a catalyst,” she said.

Global Trends Driving Post-Heroic Style

The Hay Group report, “Leadership 2030,” identifies the global trends that are driving the need for more open, collaborative and conceptual leaders, including:

• Globalization: Increasingly diverse teams and the rise of the global middle class mean leaders need to bridge global and local divides and manage the resulting risk and volatility.

• Climate change: Scarcity of key resources and rising operational costs mean leaders need to be able to balance competing demands for financial success and social responsibility.

• Demographic shifts: Fewer qualified people mean leaders need to work harder to attract, motivate and retain increasingly diverse teams.

• Digital lifestyle and skills: As organizations become more virtual and technology blurs the boundaries between home and work, leaders need to be able to harness the power of technology to foster collaboration and be able to operate with integrity in a more transparent business environment.

“When this works, it works because there’s a purpose,” Spencer said. “There’s this sense of purpose and dedication to something important, and important not just to you and your career, but that actually benefits the community and the customer in some way.”

Talent Management Chess

Preparing leaders for this complicated global environment means talent management becomes more complicated too; hiring and selecting leaders not just for skills and abilities, but also for their emotional intelligence.

“To work in this way, people need some adaptability, they need to understand what they can do and can’t do, they need to understand other people,” Spencer said. “Leaders who actually listen to other people have for a long, long time done better than ones who couldn’t because that enables you to do all sorts of your leadership functions at a higher level.”

Those leaders also need to be able to think “horizontally,” looking across lines of business and organizational boundaries to identify and develop more robust and innovative answers to problems.

It also means thinking about career paths and succession planning in increasingly non-linear ways. Talent managers should intentionally build in flexibility and lateral moves into career paths for leaders.

“Evidence suggests that career paths that have lateral moves relatively early or mid-career end up with people who have more flexibility, more adaptability and a wider range of competencies and therefore a wider range of career possibilities,” Spencer said.

Those sort of lateral moves also facilitate the level of collaboration needed to be successful in a challenging global environment. Leaders who understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes are better able to work together with that person.

While that focus is important, it’s also critical for talent managers to be intentional and transparent with leaders when discussing lateral moves. Frame for leaders how the move fits into their career path and what they’ll be learning so they don’t feel lost, Spencer said.

“It’s fun to see people grow and blossom in ways that you wouldn’t have thought and stretch themselves and become more capable and competent [and] discover capabilities that they didn’t think they had,” she said.

While it’s a much more complicated way to approach talent recruitment and development, the payoff can be greater, Signe said. Leaders have more career options and organizations have more leaders prepared for a variety of roles.

“It’s like playing chess. It takes a certain combination of intelligence and effort.”

Mike Prokopeak is editorial director of Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at

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