Let’s Change How We Approach the Development of Future Leaders

Brenda Thompson Sandie Bateman, MBA, CPLP
Director, Operations
Learning & Development

Behind the Curtain: Part 3 of a 3-part series on the important human resource issues affecting associations today. We’ve discussed the role of strategic compensation plans in attracting and retaining great talent and HR policy & compliance issues heading into 2019. In our final article of the series, we discuss how we approach the development of future leaders.

By Sandie Bateman, MBA, CPLP

"We live in a VUCA environment: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity"1

Taken from language used by the military to describe "the fog of war," VUCA is an applicable description for the business environment of the 21st century.

  1. Volatility: Change is continually happening and at a larger scale.
  2. Uncertainty: Due to such rapid and constant change, it has become more difficult to predict the future.
  3. Complexity: With such diverse and global impacts on an organization, drivers of change become more difficult to identify and analyze.
  4. Ambiguity: Continual change, inability to forecast, and lack of clarity lead to the "fog," or ambiguity, of the business environment.

These drivers are impacting the ways in which we need to approach the development of future leaders.

  1. Leadership Development functions should be reconsidered.

    Rather than serving as the distributor of information, Learning & Development (L&D) professionals are now required to be "facilitators" of the learning and development process. This means we need to help our learners develop continual learning skills – identify what learning is needed, and how and where to find it. This may mean on-demand learning sources, peer-to-peer mentoring, cross-functional project assignments, and/or use of emerging social/virtual technology.

    Internet search engines, YouTube, and Facebook often incorrectly serve as primary sources of information. Learners need to be able to learn how to learn, to identify valid sources of information, and to constantly gain new skills and knowledge and become self-learners.
  2. Leadership Development instructors may be delivering programs for the wrong roles.

    Many of the roles required of future leaders may not even exist today. This means future leaders need the agility and problem-solving skills to identify new requirements as they emerge and to ask for support. L&D staff must stay in tune with the needs of the organization and adjust materials. "The future of work, shifts in technology, and new ways of working are leading the way for critical learning and talent transformation," says Tamar Elkeles in Today’s Learning Agenda Exposed, Chief Learning Officer.
  3. Leadership Development programs should be developed to accommodate a continual roll-over of participants.

    As the economy improves, employees are seeking new opportunities. Retention of staff and the knowledge and skills they represent are no longer guaranteed. What and how we provide L&D support will need to offer easy entry points for new staff and ensure knowledge of exiting staff is captured and shared.
  4. Leadership Development programs need to encompass the emotional/cognitive skills of learners, as well as the organizational/management skills.

    Learners will be asked to stretch as never before as they are set off in the turbulent seas of the VUCA environment. Understanding how these environmental aspects will affect you and others, and how to adapt to maintain productivity and connection is critical. These skills provide the mental preparedness necessary to deal with whatever comes your way. This "cognitive readiness" includes metacognition, sense-making, intuition, attentional control, adaptability, emotional control, and advanced communication skills.2
  5. Leadership Development may need to provide support to key contractors as well as employees.

    As organizations utilize subcontractors to transition changes in the business, L&D should consider the impact to their role as providers of operational consistency and culture. 43% of U.S. workers are currently independent contractors, with that number expected to climb in the next five years to over 50%.3 The need for sharing the organization’s culture and values will grow as companies increasingly bring in support from outside the organization.
  6. Leadership Development may not have face-to-face access to all learners.

    According to a recent New York Times article, 43% of U.S. employees spend time working from home.3 Program and development support programs will need to encompass a virtual component and can no longer depend on having employees come together in one location.
  7. Leadership Development is no longer a program or a one-time series.

    As leadership demands come and go, employees will be required to continually step up to take a new leadership role. In this volatile and ambiguous environment, employees may not be able to plan for the need for leadership development. L&D professionals will be charged with developing leaders "on-demand."

    Successful organizations will be those that are continually providing day-to-day opportunities for job growth. This will also drive the emerging need for continual performance management to ensure staff are receiving timely and effective guidance. This frequent "Feed-forward Coaching" is performance coaching with a focus on future needs as well as on learning from past experiences. L&D professionals will need to partner with the Performance Management process of the organization in order to monitor and provide ongoing developmental support for staff.

Within the VUCA environment, employees need to become leaders who can adapt to changes and grow comfortable with ambiguity. Awareness of self and confidence in one’s own abilities will provide the foundation for these skills. L&D professionals can aid in this development by ensuring Leadership programs address these needs.

Sandie Bateman, MBA, CPLP, is the Director of Learning & Development with JER HR Group, a human resource firm that helps great organizations, large and small, to be their best. She is an expert in organizational development, designing and implementing customized L&D courses for organizational development initiatives. Sandie is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP), and is certified in Everything DiSC®, Profiles XT, Profiles CheckPoint 360, Profiles Sales Assessment, and Profiles Managerial Fit®.

1 "The Shifting Trends on Leadership", TD.org, Bonnie Hagemann, October 2016
2 "State of Independence in America", MBO Partners, 2017
3 "Remote Workers Work from Home", New York Times, 2017