Leadership Development Evolution

by | Nov 26, 2013

Leadership Development Evolution

Inspired by Ross Dawsons article on Building success in the future of work: T-shaped, Pi-shaped, and Comb-shaped skills and my own work on developing leaders ready for the future I have been considering some classical approaches to leadership development when it comes to Professional Discipline (the technical element or business element of leadership development).

Introduction – The Leadership Triad:

Self – Others – Professional Discipline

Most Leadership Development can be categorised in one of the following sections:

  • Self – Self Awareness, Strengths, Behaviour
  • Others – Impact, Influence, Teams, Motivation
  • Professional Discipline – Finance for Accountants, Business for MDs, Sales for Sales, Technology for IT, Markets, Operations etc…

When it comes to Leadership Development organisations focus heavily on one area, to the detriment of the others, and typically the focus is Professional Discipline.

Professional Discipline – the technical leadership model

Professional Discipline development could involve technical experts engaging senior people in how to predict or inform them on; the market, identified trends, new techniques, competition studies etc. It could be simply linked to their job role like Sales for Sales people, or Finance for Finance people, and any content based course that leaders would ask for on “specific needs” like Crisis Management, E-Commerce, Legislation changes etc.

Why do organisations focus on technical leadership skills?

Well, because it is the easiest. Your ego accepts information far more easily if it is not directed at you making any change at all. Content delivered by a smart consultant concerning continuous professional development means taking more information which is not really associated with you doing anything personally or behaviorally different. It is based on Socratic method which is over 2000 years old as a technique for learning.

In the past I would support persuading organisations to open their development minds up to other ways of training or facilitated learning, allowing a balanced approach to learning, but I have noticed recently that as we change how we promote Talent it is going to have a profound impact on how we approach leadership development.

Instead of a traditional hierarchy or knowledge based expertise being rewarded where people are promoted vertically, a new age thinking on reward, based on a combination of modern behaviours like “change agility” rather than time served ‘functional experience‘ means that these new-age pseudo-social skills will demand a premium in the new market economy. These are natural skills that the modern worker takes for granted but the older generation C-Suite find unfathomable (like social networking).

What is causing this change in the value of content focused Leadership Development?

  • Bright young things, that’s what! Gone are the days when you had to spend 20 years as the understudy to be the Director. Talent is being recognised and people are being fast tracked because of potential rather than experience.
  • Market Globalisation is causing a huge rift in experience requirements as small business now compete internationally over the internet with established domestic business.
  • Gratuitous Information Overload from experts means that people can research and replicate models of experts quickly and easily without needing to pay £30,000 to do their MBA or worse wait for their boss to share the slightest snippet that helps them progress their career.

This mass of freely available expertise and youtube demonstration of how to implement it means that some of the previously hard earned rights of passage are being eroded away.

We are no longer in a knowledge based economy but a psuedo-social society

People’s social network is becoming their own ego-yardstick, so feedback from the boss is less and less important because access to mobilised socialisation means they can vote, poke and purchase whilst travelling to work, and get relative strangers to support their emotional state. Access to anything is available over the internet without charge, and as such without controls or boundaries that previous generations used as guidelines. Relationships are just a click away and this makes access to solutions simple and non-cognitive, and completely misguided!

The impact of this for me is that new generations will have all the answers without any point of reference or relativity.  Older generations that control organisations (currently at least), will be slower to react and less able to comprehend the speed of change.  The stability of experience will slowly compete with the agility of the global psuedo-social mindset. 

What is the future of effective leadership development?

Organisations need to take risks to bring up new people through the ranks that have a wide spread of change agility to help predict opportunities and threats relevant to their own perspective rather than functional experience. If you want your business to grow then you need people who represent change to be guiding your board, without giving them the accountability for the decision. In fact, building strong bonds between experience and agility (old and new) so that they compliment each other is the secret to the future of leadership development.

Right now you are in a position to utilise your Talent or Leadership development not just to identify functional or positional succession but to inform and support the internal network between experience and agility so it is not a big leap to expect this bond to be strengthened and nurtured.

Final thoughts – The spider shaped skills model

T-shaped, Pi-shaped and Comb-shaped models need to move aside for the spider-shape that is the modern worker. A Y-Gen, or Me-Gen will have fingers in many pies, dipping in and out of functional, hierarchical, informational roles with their own perspective and their own network of expertise (not based on capability but on social interactivity) identifying and influencing what they want, with ignorance of what others need, and yet with a brutal understanding and opinion on everything. Your business has lots of these young people, engage them sooner rather than later for their perspective rather than their experience, to build a bond of loyalty that will pay dividends for retention and business flexibility later on.

The modern business will need a unity between agility and experience so please get in touch if you want to know how you can do this in your organisation.



Martin Knowles

Martin Knowles


About the author

Martin Knowles has worked in a variety of sectors in Learning and Development roles and Contracts for nearly 20 years (DSGi, PCWorld, Capital One, Linklaters, Veolia, Severn Trent, Rolls-Royce, Diageo, Selfridges). He has authored content, books and articles for managers and aspiring leaders, published work in multiple media and won awards for Best Training and Development in Europe.

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