Has your leadership model expired?

Imagine that you’ve boarded a plane for a transatlantic flight.  You’re in your seat, waiting for the stragglers to get settled. You pull the in-flight magazine out of the seat pocket. The cover story proudly proclaims that the airline has not updated its hiring criteria for pilots in more than 25 years. As far as they’re concerned, it’s still 1988. How long would it take you to grab your bag and head for the exit before the cabin doors close?


Whether running an airline or a business, the operational environment is constantly evolving. And even if some of the right pieces are in place – advanced avionics and engines, say, or market-relevant strategies – a company’s ability to survive and thrive is severely diminished if those in charge lack the competencies to manage to new realities.


This point is not lost on senior executives.  In global research  conducted recently by The Conference Board and Right Management, respondents identified “accelerating leadership development” as the top talent management challenge facing their companies in the coming year.


Yet, in my work as a leadership development consultant, I frequently encounter companies that are trying to function under leadership models that were created five, ten, twenty years ago. These are not head-in-the-sand outfits. They recognize the need to adapt to new competitors and business models, a younger workforce, among other changes. And they know that leadership has to be part of the transformation equation. But they are uncertain how to make it happen.


The best place to begin is by revisiting and refreshing your leadership model. By leadership model, I mean the core competency requirements for leadership positions – those capabilities and attributes that align to your organization and are critical to achieving your  business goals in the coming years.


Here are some basics to help you begin reinvigorating your leadership model:


Drop the laundry list.  Many leadership models are generic and way too long. You’re not trying to build the perfect leader; you’re defining the critical dimensions that will make a difference in executing the company’s transformation.  Focus on four  to seven essentials; whittle it down to the core criteria that, if possessed by a critical mass of leaders, will propel the organization toward success.


Think three years ahead.  Sometimes companies try to build a leadership model for the ages. And then proceed as if they have. Let’s be honest. Most companies do not have a 10- or 20-year vision.  But if I ask most senior leaders to consider a three to five -year horizon, they typically have clarity on where the company is going in that time frame. So craft your leadership model to that scale, and then revisit it every five years or sooner. To prime your discussions, here are what senior leaders in Asia, Europe, and North America say are the leadership competencies that will be most important over the next five years, according to the survey I mentioned earlier.



Source: Strategic Leadership Development, The Conference Board & Right Management


Gather 3-D input.  I recommend a three-dimensional information gathering process to develop a relevant and effective leadership model:


Let me give you an example of how it works. In a recent engagement with a mid-sized global organization, I worked with the 10-person global management team plus  45 non-C-suiters on revising the leadership model to align to aggressive growth ambitions in a very competitive market. The task was completed within about ten working days over the space of six weeks. The existing eight-dimensional model was narrowed to five competencies that will be required to sustain growth over the next three to five years. Three of the dimensions were hold-overs from the previous model, but two new ones were added.


The first new competency was the ability to work effectively across the organization (versus “siloed success”) – an increasingly common leadership metric in many businesses. The second was that leaders have to combine both strategic and operational talents. I think that’s a very interesting criterion. Not having the magnitude of some of its competitors, this company needs leaders who have their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Avoiding someone who has a purely strategic or operational focus is a clear-cut benchmark that will function as a sharp winnowing tool in the leadership selection process – exactly what a good competency model should provide.


So, how can you get started refreshing your leadership model? I believe it should be treated as a strategic imperative, with HR taking accountability for driving the initiative and proactively involving the C-suite early on. Crafting a streamlined, highly efficient process is critical to keeping executives engaged and making productive use of their limited time. The important thing is to take action now — your company’s success depends on those in leadership positions having the required competencies to manage to new realities.



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