Leadership Development – Indian Scenario

Just ticking the boxes won’t do anymore after the financial crisis, people have started realizing the critical essence of leadership development. Consider the senior leadership skill of learning agility.

While people have been talking about it for three decades now, people weren’t even aware of how to measure it. What is becoming evident now more than ever is that if countries, global economies and emerging industries don’t take leadership seriously and just keep ticking the boxes, there will be business, social and governmental consequences?

Every leadership development plan must be linked to business strategy and results, something that was missing in the past. And for every plan, the implications must be very clear, be it fast-track promotions, succession, productivity or retention — each one of them tied to metrics to give a sense of accountability. Are companies getting into that groove now?

The good ones are very clear on the ROI in leadership, whether it is coaching or succession planning or cross-pollination of people, getting there and having their investments justified…The others continue to spend a lot of money for nothing.

As a case in point, the recurring disconnect between organisational strategy and HR. The CEO is required by his board to have a succession plan in place and the HR has to act in quick time but fails to see the connection since it is conditioned into either a previous or different organisational strategy. The HR would then probably go scouting for talent to universities thinking it could never go wrong while hiring.

But that is the stage when the company is throwing money in the garbage bin. And so the questions arises “What is the company’s competency model? What is the company’s strategy? What gap are you trying to fill? When you hire a handful of coaches, what are you coaching for?”

Coaching is a growing trend but no matter how much coaching is injected into the company’s top people, leadership remains a personal journey. Leaders need coaching in different doses and disciplines. One size surely doesn’t fit all.

Volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace and a slow growth trajectory of western economies has led to a tremendous hesitation to come out of the recession mode. Many a times leaders tend to shy away from the situation and prefer to remain mere managers.

If you look at the last 3-4 years, many companies and economies have been in a turnaround mode with exits, cutbacks on development programs and it was really about survival and keeping one’s nose above water.In the process, leadership development was ignored. When people find themselves on survival mode, most shy away from leadership and switch on their management modes.

They became transactional and short-term oriented and just trying to survive for the next year… They also entered the cost-cutting mode and eventually cut cost on the development of their people… That’s when we find even leaders becoming managers. People have got conditioned to think about quarter-on-quarter bottom lines and not take risks and investment decisions.

The biggest failure of the crisis is the lack of communication top down. Outstanding leaders realise that even if they don’t have enough money to develop their people, they must communicate to them the reasons for such harsh measures. As for the rampant lack of communication in tough times, she highlights that leaders never like to be the ones to give out the bad news. Besides, they are so overwhelmed with what they have to do to just survive, that stepping back and telling their people why they’re doing that, just doesn’t happen.

The companies that produce great leaders are the ones that are very clear about their leadership requirements within the organisations. In other words, the best leaders for Company A may not be the best leaders for Company B.

So companies that have the ability to identify their high-potential people versus their high-professionals, nurture and develop them in a particular way. Google, with a very clearly spelt-out employee value proposition, comes first to mind. This whole idea about what is going to mean as a company in the marketplace, started only recently with the war for talent.

We have the example of Tata Steel’s acquisition of Corus, which was an Anglo-Dutch amalgam.
When you have such multiple cultures within the organisation, it is critical to identify leaders with high learning agility as these leaders will get you this multi-faceted conglomerate culture. They are actually going to understand what makes the difference between businesses in London, versus the people who came from the Dutch operations, and the differences between them and the Indian management. This fast learning may lead to a sensational leadership style that can prove to be extremely productive.

So does leadership exhibit nationalities? Can there ever be an ‘Indian way’ of leading? “It’s incredible how different styles apply to different cultures, dropping a hint at an emerging Indian leadership quotient. However, there are other considerations too. For instance, a particular organisation’s parent culture may be so strong that it can trounce the regional culture. Over the years, Shell, is a classic example in that mould. On the other hand, other companies are flexible enough to adapt to regional cultures, like Unilever.

But clearly, the war for talent has also left talent very tired. The trend will continue. As soon as the global economy recovers, you’ll have lots of people retiring and the next 5-10 years will actually be terrifying since it will be a combination of an already existing and tired workforce with top leaders who are getting out of the marketplace.

In one of the studies, Korn/Ferry projected that over the next 5 years, 50% of the top management of the top 100 global companies will retire. Can you imagine the lack of leadership in such organisations?