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Leadership on a steep learning curve to reinvention

With recent large scale changes globally, significant pressure has fallen on leaders, and not just at board and senior executive levels. Mid-level leaders have also had to refocus and cope with increased workloads and pressure to succeed.

In 2013, there will be no relief. As organisations prioritise innovation to maintain their on-going relevance, the ability to manage and drive change will become an even more fundamental leadership skill. But although it continues to be a top priority, other skills have become equally key imperatives for leadership and organisational success.

A review of many international studies and articles, together with feedback from organisations in the New Zealand market, highlights some emerging leadership skill needs, and gaps.

Customer obsession, inspirational leadership and leadership teaming / collaboration modelling are the top three skill sets identified in a 2012 study of 1700 CEOs by IBM. The global research concludes that to lead in unfamiliar territory and amid constant change, CEOs will need to broaden and learn from their own networks. They will need to assemble those networks like portfolios - with generational, geographic, and institutional diversity. Then, they'll need to help their organisations do the same.

Another study by IBM, of 750 Human Resources leaders who have responsibility for developing organisational leadership capability, emphasises creativity and collaboration as key needs. HR believes future leaders must:
• learn to see opportunities in terms of a virtually unrestricted global environment
• create within their organisations integrated, cross-functional capabilities; and
• break down the institutional silos that inhibit creativity and speed.

A similar theme is evident in Optimising Your Leadership Pipeline - a white paper by DDI, a global HR and talent management consultancy. It suggests that sustainable innovation relies on leaders who demonstrate a capacity for entrepreneurship, actively using knowledge to create or seize new business opportunities.

In the DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2011, leaders themselves identified the following Top 5 skills as critical for their success:

1. Managing and Driving Change
2. Identifying and Developing Future Talent
3. Fostering Creativity and Innovation
4. Coaching and Developing Others
5. Executing Organisational Strategy

Interestingly, although they acknowledge the importance of these skillsets, approximately 50% of the 12,000 respondents reported a skill gap in each of these areas. A particular area of weakness they report is in Coaching and Developing Others.

Clearly, there is development to be done to ensure leaders are equipped to fulfil their purpose.

In turn, that demands innovation in the systems for leadership development. There is a growing acceptance that the programmes themselves need to be flexible and adaptive to change.

The best programmes offer a mix of formal training (10%), learning from others (20%), and on-the-job experience (70%), with a blended approach to building learning journeys for participants. Leaders looking to step up will need to push for that balance in their development opportunities, to ensure they can also develop through on the job activity and proactive input from others. Equally boards and senior executives will need to ensure that their organisation commits time and resources to engage with and involve their emerging and mid level leaders in a variety of workplace experiences; thus ensuring that they build the strength for future strategic leadership within their organisation.

• Christien Winter is a Director of Sheffield, and consults in both its Search & Selection and Organisational Development practices. Sheffield is the exclusive licensee for DDI in New Zealand.

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