What You Need To Know About Evolutionary Leadership Development

What You Need To Know About Evolutionary Leadership Development
Summary: Learning leaders are searching for new ways of thinking about leadership development. Because there are fast and dramatic changes impacting every aspect of business, old ways of thinking, entrenched interests, and established models are threatened. This article describes the compelling business context for a new evolutionary development framework that provides a forward-thinking model to support leaders at all levels navigate this new terrain, and a compass to help them succeed.

Developing Evolutionary Leadership: Mission Critical

In the U.S. alone, companies spend more than $15 billion annually on leadership development programs, according to a 2014 Bersin by Deloitte study. Leadership is clearly a corporate priority – and for good reason.

The Guide To Evolutionary Development: Part 1 – Preparing Leaders To Thrive In The Digital Era
Discover a forward-thinking model to support leaders at all levels navigate this new terrain, and a compass to help them succeed.

Not only are your leaders (from executives to middle managers to new managers) the foot soldiers of your organizational culture, they maintain the competitive advantage and growth of your business. A leader’s impact on the bottom line cannot be ignored; leaders drive innovation and productivity, capitalize on business opportunities, and develop and retain top talent.

A leader’s responsibilities in today’s business environment are daunting. The digital revolution is reshaping the consumer behaviors and demands, how we run our businesses, and even the way we work.

This new era is bringing about technological change that risks challenging the value of humanity itself, while demanding higher-level human skillsets and deeper forms of sharing. At the helm of our organizations, older generations are coming to terms with the aspirations of newer ones faster and more dramatically than ever before.

The need for leadership is only deepening and broadening, setting the stage for a leader who thrives on – and even encourages change and disruption.

Our New World: The Context For New Perspective

21st century business operates in an environment characterized by unprecedented volatility, uncertainty, change, and ambiguity.

As the corporate crises of the past ten years continue to signal, companies are struggling to manage the level of complexity of this new era. Shaken by systemic problems, many organizations seem to lack the capacity to deal with the risk unleashed by their own business models.

In this environment, organizations face a constant state of disequilibrium that requires strong adaptive skills and authentic leadership. The fast and dramatic changes of our time are threatening old ways of thinking, entrenched interests, and established models, making it difficult for all groups to go through this transformation without losing something. Leadership is becoming the top imperative in the digital era as organizations are forced to manage a constant process of loss in order to keep apace.

The fear of disruption that companies face today is heightening the need for continuous improvement and innovation. If in the past business could simply establish and defend some competitive advantage, today business needs to harness the creativity and ingenuity of entire networks to continue to generate transformative ideas and solutions.

Technology is transforming well-established business models, redesigning internal and external delivery processes and the way products are made. The advent of robots, a=Artificial Intelligence, and complete automation is also restructuring full work processes. Not only are more and more skillsets rapidly losing relevance, but the workplace is at risk of becoming less human. A whole generation of workers is facing the threat of having to retrain halfway through their careers.

Relational Complexity

The internet and the cloud, advances in computing power and Big Data, crowdsourcing and the sharing economy are reducing the degrees of separation between stakeholder groups, making companies feel the weight and challenge of figuring out these new ways of relating to one another.

While technological change is accelerating the obsolescence of traditional skills, the level of complexity organizations face today is increasing the value of unique and irreplaceable human capacities like creativity, empathy, and critical thinking. Employees can no longer mail it in; they must bring their whole selves to work.

The application and sharing economy forces organizations to change the way work is organized and sourced. Flatter organizational models, such as Holacracy, Agile, and Network, are becoming more and more widespread, challenging the merits of old top-down approaches and formal authority. In contrast, emerging organizational designs tend to hinge on organic collaborative efforts across local networks and distributed teams. These new models presume that people have abandoned old mindsets and already possess the maturity to self-organize.

The ongoing generational and demographic changes are hitting the workforce reset button. The labor force has never been more diverse, evolving, and ambitious. People are looking for meaning, autonomy, and challenges, rather than jobs. And they are also expecting flexible work arrangements that allow them to cultivate independence and remain dynamic in this change-laden environment.

Implications For Leadership Development

What leadership capacities are needed in a time where business challenges change from day to day? And where should these capacities be found? In an environment of extraordinary change and uncertainty, leaders need to amp their game and leadership must become everybody’s calling. If in the past organizations could rely on formal leaders to provide structure, direction, and order, today’s leadership must extend far beyond technical competence and formal authority.

Not only is leadership to encompass new mindsets and behaviors, but it must evolve into a more widespread organizational capacity. The leader of the future doesn’t dwell at the top of the organization but at the core of every single team—making the new network models of this era organic, nimble, and ready to embrace more change.

Put simply, organizations need to adapt in real time; they need to harness the change they face instead of succumbing to it. Like a skilled alchemist, they need to turn change into positive change.

Smoothing out and harnessing the natural resistance to change and loss will be a key responsibility of the leader of the future. The leader of the future must also envision and share an aspirational path forward that binds people together in times of high volatility and ambiguity, when the whole journey is still unknown. Another key job for the leader of the future will be developing deeply human and agile networks in a reality that grows more interdependent by the second. Finally, the future leader will need to engage in self-reflection and nurture aware self-centeredness—the most sensitive compass to weather unpredictable storms and trials that a leader can wish for—to consolidate the leader’s ability to inspire, adapt, and develop.

A Future Vision Of An Evolved Leader

If the overarching leadership approach of the past touted formal authority and brass power, the leader of the future is constantly journeying between the inside and the outside—the inner life of the organization and the remarkable challenges of the external environment; the intimate experience of their own personal evolution and the bold transformation of their colleagues; the flashy change of technology and the corresponding subtle shift in values and aspirations.

As they engage in this constant inward-outward journey, evolved leaders gain energy and insight for themselves and others. They stand at the edge of the old, where they can grasp the new and still appreciate the tools and instruments of the past that have withstood the test of time.

This new leader’s purpose is not to please cohorts or consolidate their power, but to exercise wisdom, challenge the status quo, and envision the complex interdependence of systems and stakeholders.

Moving from the inside to the outside, leaders reflect on their own and others’ mindsets, look to elevate behavior, and work on re-engineering processes that align with the deeply-held purpose and values that govern their leadership. Moving from the outside to the inside, leaders share their appreciation for new ideas and strategies with their teams and engineers change. As their vision develops, leaders diagnose opportunities and problems and design suitable solutions. In doing so, they are already considering the impact of these changes on people’s behavior and mindsets; in fact, they use these transformative opportunities to foster deeper aspirational and behavioral alignment.

In its fullest form, this style of leadership is all-encompassing, focusing on how people think and feel, how they act, and how the larger system operates. But leaders can also be tactical and position their work at any of these three levels, situating themselves at the edge of that comfort zone where people are willing to travel in order to see what stands beyond.

Evolutionary Development Framework: Preparing Leaders To Thrive In The Digital Era

To develop leaders to lead in today’s increasingly complex world, organizations need a new model that emphasizes the attributes that leaders need to embrace in order to navigate organizational change in the digital age; The Evolutionary Development Model.

Credit: InforPro Learning

A Holistic Approach: Mindset, Behavior, Processes

Leadership development should entail the full span of influence; Mindset, Behavioral, and Processes.

Unlike many leadership development models which focus only on behavioral changes, the evolutionary development model also addresses the mindset shifts that drive changes in behavior and the resulting processes that create change throughout the organization:

  • Mindset: How we view people and the organization based on our values and beliefs – your line of sight.
  • Behavioral: What we give up and what we start doing – your actions and their impact on others.
  • Processes: What we envision to expand organizational capacity – your influence to create new systems and tools that sustain ongoing change.

If you want to learn more about how to develop evolutionary leadership in your organization, download the eBook The Guide To Evolutionary Development: Part 1 – Preparing Leaders To Thrive In The Digital Era.