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9 Key Leadership Development Trends

December 30, 2010

By David Giber and Sam Lam

In our work with leadership development programs around the world and exchanges with practitioners on every continent, we have noted nine key trends in leadership development. These trends points to the emerging interest in more global models of leadership, meaning a greater focus on what is shared across borders than what is different:

Global Leadership

1. Leaders are more interested in global similarities than cultural differences.
Leaders across the globe, from Asia to the U.S., want to learn more about what connects them than about what differences exist. While important, differences in culture may be readily learned through exposure and through classes. More challenging is the goal of driving overall alignment across a global corporation or organization. The goal of finding similar practices, processes, and language across organizations is more compelling and of greater concern to corporate leaders.

2. Global thinking means looking across boundaries and across time to the implications of actions and events. This is the true standard for educating today’s leaders. It means getting them to ask better questions and be relentless learners. It requires creating networks for shared learning that put a new emphasis on having facilitators move seamlessly between responding to participants online in both pre and post session assignments that must then be connected to the classroom learning as well.

Leadership Development Approaches

3. Since Noel Tichy popularized the idea of leadership stories, the interest in the power of sharing leadership and organizational values through the medium of stories has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon. Leading organizations today are using their internet portals to share such stories, with streaming video and the opportunity to interact or blog about leadership issues. Leadership stories are the most powerful way to personalize leadership learning and are now taking on whole new dimensions of connecting people. The story has emerged from the personal to encompass messages about the organization, its past, and its future. Ulrich has written about leadership brands for organizations; the need for organizations to distinguish themselves in terms of how they lead. Stories and video based cases are powerful mediums for sharing messages and lessons about leadership. They are a way to build a global dialogue about future strategy and past success.

4. Networking and mentoring and peer coaching are among the most rapidly emerging “technologies” for developing leaders. This type of approach is especially welcome in cultures like Africa and Asia where group input is highly valued. It is also due to the fact that feedback is now a widespread phenomenon and there is less stigma attached to sharing it. Networks exist to help executives assimilate into new positions, connect women or minority leaders, or to link people struggling through the difficulty of a tough implementation worldwide. Charlene Li’s new book, Open Leadership provides great insight into the emerging power of this approach.

5. Henry Mintzberg was right—action learning needs to be action-reflection learning and the challenge worldwide is to build thinking skills in addition to proving ROI. The interest in understanding thinking skills is found in the new work by Tichy and Bennis on Leadership Judgment as well as the resurgence of interest in Innovation and Execution as companies emerge from the recession.

6. This interest in thinking has carried over to a renewed interest in simulations and out of the box exercises to help build new thinking. Dramatic simulation exercises are being welcomed by global organizations as ways to help move emerging leaders out of conventional wisdom and to challenge accepted practices. Along these lines, practitioners are creating best practices by targeting one major area for identifying their programs, institutes, or interventions- we call this the “signature experience”. They want intensive experiences, targeted assessments, and challenges.

Competencies of Leaders

7. Leadership in terms of providing balance as a role model is a widely accepted notion. Globally, leaders want to know about EQ, health, and balance. The idea of avoiding detailers and focusing on emotional and physical energy and resilience is widely accepted. Assessment is being broadened to include health, personality, and self management.

8. The interest in leadership competencies has now gone to what we see as a new level. The first level of the competency field was the interest in original, in-depth research to identify distinctive competencies for specific jobs, functions, and organizations. As the research basis for competencies became so well established and defined, competencies were viewed as more of a tool, a language for how the organization needs to compete or the values people in the organization share. The interest is in ensuring that the competencies are used practically for succession and hiring decisions; the models around the world as simpler, shorter, and easier to use.

9. Companies are more explicitly linking in their talent management systems. They want leadership programs and assessments to inform succession decisions. There is less fear about moving from one area to another and easier technology to make the connections work. Organizations are demanding that their internal OD, leadership, and training professionals join forces, understand each other, and erase the boundaries between what they do.

Leadership development is combining the best of global and local. Organizations in the emerging economies of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia recognize that leadership development is part of what they need to do to compete. They are adapting western practices while also challenging them to be relevant to their own ideas of team work and how to strengthen organizations.

These organizations recognize the need to communicate values, strategy, and leadership standards as one organization while avoiding homogenization and rigid models. They are celebrating diversity of cultures and viewpoints while increasing the skills of their leaders. They are becoming more comfortable with openness both within and outside their companies.

The Challenge for the LD Practitioner

What are the implications of these trends for the LD practitioner? The choices in leadership development are vast and sometimes confusing. The risk is in doing too much and not achieving impact by trying to do too many things. Design is not only about what happens inside the program but in trying to blend in the participation of leaders teaching leaders, sponsoring initiatives, mentoring, etc.

Leadership is about developing the whole person and connecting that person to the organization and the wider community. In this emerging global approach, it is about taking the time to identify the meaningful cultural differences that must be understood so alignment and communication can take place.
David Giber is an Executive Vice President at Linkage. He helped establish Linkage’s consulting and leadership development business. He is internationally recognized as an architect of leadership development programs and solutions. David focuses his practice on coaching senior executives and teams, and developing action learning based, innovative leadership offerings.
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Samuel M. Lam is based in Singapore and is the President and Managing Consultant of Linkage Asia. One of the leading practitioners in the field of leadership development in Asia, Sam has created some of the most highly regarded leadership development programs for both Singapore and global clients. His work also focuses on the development of leadership competency models to support business growth, innovation, performance culture, and change.

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