Developing tomorrow’s leaders

Given the volatile economic climate, we need to attract and develop a new breed of executives able to cope with rapid, wide-ranging change, believes Chris Welford, director of Serco Consulting.

Attracting, retaining, motivating and developing the sort of leaders best suited for an uncertain future is a major challenge for HR.

There are a number of leadership traits to consider. The traditional factors of track record and industry reputation must not be ignored, but we must go beyond these considerations to really understand the essence of each person we interview, select, appraise and develop.

Chris Welford

Chris Welford, director, Serco Consulting.

Firstly, our new leaders need to be exceptionally grounded. Corporate demands are not going to get any less invasive and the boundaries between work and life will continue to blur. Recognising that an executive has the discipline to leave the office at a reasonable time, takes allocated leave and has the wherewithal to switch off mobile communications will not be enough.

Letting go

Tomorrow’s leaders will need to be able to do no less than mentally “let go” without any loss of awareness – to be open to everything and yet attached to nothing, even in a wired world where social media dominates and it is increasingly difficult to go “offline”.

For this, they will need both self-awareness and self-acceptance. Letting go is not about ceasing to care or abdicating responsibility, but has everything to do with being fully aware of who we are, what our values are and where our strengths lie. Tomorrow’s leaders should not be obsessive workaholics, feeling only as good as their latest accomplishments.

Nor should we try and build future leaders in someone else’s image. As Oliver James points out in his book Affluenza, the person who can only make comparisons upwards against those they consider to be more intelligent, better presented, higher achieving and probably richer is destined to become a miserable, burnt-out wreck in a very short space of time. Grounded, self-aware and self-accepting leaders are much more likely to display emotionally intelligent behaviour.

Open-minded and open to possibility

The next critical capability is creativity. The skill to see the world differently is what will make the difference during times of uncertainty. Tomorrow’s leaders will need to be open-minded and open to possibility rather than contained by rigid and limiting beliefs.

Tomorrow’s leaders will generate many ideas themselves, they will allow themselves time for their ideas to incubate and they will have the courage to challenge accepted norms. Perhaps more importantly, though, they will help create the conditions in which their followers can do the same.

All of this implies a deeper, more holistic and more thoughtful approach to talent assessment and development. Finding the people to lead our organisations in the future is going to involve digging deep and not just accepting what lies at the surface – and this will involve more than a selection process based on competency-based interviewing and a few psychometrics. Helping them grow and develop will be no less demanding.

Chris Welford is director of Serco Consulting.

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