To meet the intensifying demands of running global businesses with relentless change, we need to improve the way we grow our leaders from the ground up. Otherwise we risk idling into irrelevance.
Everything about our marketplace, from who customers are to how they engage with media to how we understand and reach them, looks to keep changing faster and getting more complex. Our companies will need new levels of anticipation, skill, speed and energy from leadership that’s as multidimensional as it is multicultural.
We won’t get there with women and people of color stuck in middle management. Nor can it happen if our C-suite executives are out of date culturally or technologically or perpetually exhausted from 24/7 work demands.
We can get there by making a fundamental shift in how we develop leaders. The change we need will take more than a conversation or special project; it will take an ongoing commitment with real internal programs built around three core pillars.
First, we must ground every rising manager in business, finance and strategy fundamentals, which are the most highly-rated qualities of leaders and the building blocks of extraordinary outcomes. And we must teach them how to engage the strengths of other people to accomplish those.
This is doubly true for women and people of color, where career development is centered around being more assertive and confident, establishing a personal brand and getting a mentor. Virtually nothing is said, let alone done, about building their experience and skills in business, finance and strategy. The leaders we need will excel in all of these areas.
Second, we must recharge existing leadership with new abilities and approaches that up-and-comers have. Mentoring can work both ways. Younger employees can impart personal affinity with new customers, fluency with technology and familiarity with new modes of communication and collaboration to their senior peers. They know how younger people respond to marketing and advertising, and they’re habituated to emerging digital platforms. In the process, they can get more intensely involved with everything the company does.
And third, we must protect our leaders from the intensity of the job itself. As our world gets smaller, demands on our time, energy and physical presence intensify. How often do you hear, “I’ve got a meeting in London next week, then I’m off to L.A. and then Shanghai?”
Our people need to be healthy to perform at their best, and a variety of mindfulness practices can assure they are. This starts with setting boundaries—nights, weekends—and grows into ongoing education on emotional and physical balance. For my part, I’ve had to institute cut-off times for phone and email, resist scheduling work on weekends and make stoic reading part of my daily routine.
Some of this can be accomplished by changing the company attitude toward what it means to be productive so personal sacrifice is recognized as a warning sign rather than a badge of honor. Other steps may require hiring a corporate wellness professional trained in career development and psychology to create work-life balance programs for individuals and teams.
Increasingly, enlightened companies will give people on every level of the business access to personal development. Some will require extended one-on-one coaching, others will respond to simply being made aware of new areas. Businesses will need to be agile enough to incorporate individual approaches to development.
When you provide personalized plans that incorporate business, financial and strategic skills with training on confidence and public speaking, people get promoted, take on more responsibility and advance the business as well as their own careers. There is nothing more fundamental to the health and growth of our companies. Our industry depends on it.