Julia Middleton says many leaders are incapable of leading effectively and can’t grasp the chances created by the crumbling of traditional boundaries. L&D must show them the way.
I talk to people every day who tell me there is a sea change taking place in what is required of them to continue being effective in their organisations. They can see that the boundaries between departments, organisations and sectors are blurring and that they cannot afford to operate in isolation from the world around them. They know they must broaden their influence across organisations and outside them if they want to remain competitive.
They also know they need new skills that will enable them to move beyond their traditional boundaries and work in partnerships with leaders in new and diverse organisations.
Common Purpose undertook research to find out how well equipped leaders were in applying these skills and using them to drive their departments and organisations forward. The subsequent report revealed a worrying crisis of confidence among managers.
The crux of the problem is the deep mistrust of the unknown and unwillingness to take risks, with 53% of leaders saying that they would not work with someone they did not already trust.
Worryingly, the top four confidence crushers for leaders are the same four skills that the leaders have earmarked as important for the future. This skillset consists of having the ability to spot opportunities and threats from outside, to lead diverse teams, to influence beyond their organisations, and to network across sectors.
The research also revealed sector variations, with 52% of leaders in the private sector willing to work with people they don’t already trust compared to 40% of leaders in other sectors. Again private sector leaders are the most willing to lead on complex projects (80%), while only 64% of SME owners said they were willing to work in difficult partnerships.
In a world of organisations that span borders and industries, diffuse networks and cross-sector partnerships, how is the UK expected to remain competitive when so many leaders are so unwilling to leave their traditional boundaries and engage with new people and ideas?
There is a way forward and those responsible for learning and development can take the lead.
When asked about the leadership training they had received, there was a clear shortfall in the gap between future skills and confidence, with only 40% saying they had received training to help manage external stakeholders. Learning and development departments can address this by providing training and development opportunities that give future leaders the chance to break out of their narrow specialisms and silos. This will also give them the experience and capacity to look outwards with self-belief, and network across diverse sectors and form constructive partnerships.
If they don’t, they will miss out on the opportunity to develop the next generation of leaders who can tackle the challenges ahead and lead with confidence.
Julia Middleton is the founder and chief executive of leadership development organisation Common Purpose and author of Beyond Authority: Leadership in a Changing World.