The Future of Leadership: A Perspective from Business Workforce Trainers

Strategy and leadershipWhat’s the future of leadership look like? Five leaders in the field of business workforce training and development shared their perspectives at a session at the 2014 ASTD conference yesterday (and just renamed itself the Association for Talent Development).  In the conversation, Debbie Blanchard (Ken Blanchard Companies), James Kirkpatrick (Kirkpatrick Partners), Halley Bock (Fierce, Inc.) and Tacy Byham (Development Dimensions International) discussed their experiences and observations as consultants who work with companies around the world.  The session was presented in a question-and-answer format, but I’ve synthesized and distilled their responses to highlight key ideas.

1.  Leadership is not a “soft skill”; it is an intentional practice to improve organizational performance and profitability.  You cannot thrust people into leadership to see if they can swim, instead it has to be initiated, conducted, and practiced intentionally.

2.  Leadership has moved from a hierarchical, single command-and-control structure to trust, transparency, collaboration, and shared authority among staff (and even customers) to co-create products and services.  It’s a key tactic to engage and motivate employees, so leaders will need to build relationships and recognize emotional intelligence, not just use carrot-and-stick approaches.  This reminded me of some of the arguments in Letting Go?

3.  Leadership development is not something that applies to a single slice of an organization but a holistic approach that applies to all levels of the organization.  “High Potential” programs make sense for large organizations, but for most organizations, leadership should be developed in multiple pools, not just the corporate suite.  We need to develop common criteria for measuring leadership beyond performance, such as bringing out the best in others or handling feedback well.

4.  CEOs cannot assume that staff training will allow them to put their feet on their desks and wait for performance improvements.  CEOs need to be personally and continuously involved in leadership development, especially through coaching and by modeling appropriate behavior.

5.  We need to “cross the bridge” from leadership development to leadership performance and contribution.   This will require moving from Levels 1 and 2 (competencies) to Levels 3 and 4 (performance and impact).  People need time to practice leadership; it doesn’t just come automatically and most people don’t seek it.  Create low-risk project teams to give people a chance to lead.  Provide short fast training on the job when needed, not just in a workshop in a distant classroom.

6.  Leaders often aren’t aware of their own blind spots and what it takes to address them.  Self-assessments (such as 360s) can be very helpful to developing leaders.

7.  Leaders need to learn how to delegate.  Often treated as a “dump-and-run” exercise or an unwillingness to give up some control and authority.  Habits that made someone successful at a lower level (such as managing details of a project) often don’t work at a higher level.

Although they’re speaking from a business perspective, many of their ideas can be applied to individual museums and historic sites, as well as the field as a whole.  Indeed, this is seen in renaming of the Museum Management Institute to the Getty Leadership Institute and the Seminar for Historical Administration to Developing History Leaders at SHA (with a URL of HistoryLeadership.org).  Of course, saying you’re a leader and being a leader are two different things.  I’ve witnessed the executives at a national organization proclaim the end of the command-and-control hierarchy that had poisoned the previous administration, only to institute more stringent supervision and decisions from the central office.