Building Leaders of the Future
Driven by complexity and fueled by rapid change, the practice of leadership development continues to evolve.
By almost any measure, Scott Kriens was a successful leader.
After taking over as CEO of Juniper Networks Inc. in 1996, the veteran technology entrepreneur led the company’s growth into a global powerhouse by supplying the routers, switches, software and networking products that form the infrastructure of the internet economy. But when his father died in 2004 it forced Kriens to hit the pause button.
“It was a really difficult time in my life,” said Kriens. “I was ignoring a lot of things. I was ignoring my personal life and my relationship at home.”
After years of charging hard, Kriens began to reflect on his leadership journey and what came next. “It really became clear that being a leader meant being a skilled practitioner of relationships,” he said. “Being able to be in authentic relationships and show up in a way that could be trusted and relied upon by other people.”
That insight was so powerful that when he retired as Juniper CEO in 2009, he and his wife Joanie founded the 1440 Foundation, a nonprofit that takes its name from the 1,440 minutes in the day. While Kriens remains chairman of the board at Juniper, his focus is now trained on the foundation and 1440 Multiversity, the 75-acre campus that is part conference facility, spa, lodge and education center they built on the redwood-filled grounds of a former bible college near Santa Cruz, California.
“In traditional education, we get plenty of intellectual training, but we don’t get much relational, social, emotional training or what you might call spiritual training in a secular sense,” Kriens said. “To be truly well, we have to be developed in all dimensions. Multiversity is really meant to address the rest of yourself.”
Incorporating professional development, personal growth and health and wellness, 1440 Multiversity is a symbol of a larger movement afoot in leadership, one that aims to meld business results with health and wellness; one that recognizes that organizational results come from a more open leadership model.
The stakes are high. Leaders face a complex and ever-evolving business environment that can overwhelm them professionally and personally. Those charged with developing the next generation of leaders have a dizzying set of theories and methods to choose from to develop leaders.
Success may just require chief learning officers to step out of their comfort zone and embrace an expanded view of what leadership is and how to develop it.
From Traditional to Transformational
The history of leadership is abundant with theories, from the “Great Man” theory that proposes certain men are born with the traits required to lead — and leaders were envisioned almost exclusively as male at the time the theory was developed — to the contingency theory that held that leadership is more like a mix and match of styles to circumstances.
What has emerged in recent times as business has gone global and technology has infused it with unprecedented speed is a rising level of complexity that requires learning organizations to more closely examine what they expect of leaders and how to develop them.
The gig economy, generational shifts in the workforce and the rise of artificial intelligence and data-driven management are forcing change. Some organizations are finding that traditional leadership competencies focused on managing peers and stakeholders are not enough.
“While they are still critical to leader effectiveness, to succeed today and prepare for the future, leaders need to be able to consistently demonstrate a new mindset and a new way of working,” said Melissa Janis, vice president of leadership and organizational development at McGraw-Hill Education.
For McGraw-Hill, a 125-year-old company with a legacy as a textbook publisher, that meant shifting strategy to focus on learning technology by giving leaders the tools and ability to thrive in a disrupted marketplace. “Leaders must embrace an entrepreneurial approach and help to create a culture that fosters collaboration, candor, empowerment, influence and action,” she said.
At BNY Mellon, the roots go back more than 200 years to its founding by Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the U.S. Treasury and current focus of Broadway’s bright lights. But that rich history doesn’t insulate the bank from the influence of technology and an economy that is increasingly open and nonhierarchical.
The challenge for leaders is to create an environment where you can pull information and answers from across the organization and move everyone in the right direction without necessarily emphasizing formal authority, said Marina Tyazhelkova, managing director and global head of management and organization development at the bank.
“It’s really kind of the crux of what good leadership is all about but it’s also really hard,” she said. “Most of the leaders we have today have probably grown up in the culture where you were the glorious leader who was supposed to show the way, know all the answers and always be right.”
Tom Gartland, former president for North America at Avis Budget Group and author of the book “Lead with Heart,” saw the limitation of that approach firsthand during his 40-year career. The more he dedicated himself to getting to know people and putting himself in service to them, the more they gave in return to the success of the company, he said.
“Leadership is an extremely personal relationship between you and the people you work with,” Gartland said. “It’s not just the people that directly work with you. From my perspective, it’s with the entire organization no matter how large the organization is.”
Effective leaders in the modern era are able to break through the distance between people and build trusted relationships, said Kriens. That means admitting mistakes and asking for help when you don’t know how to solve a problem.
“The leader is the one that has to demonstrate and make that possible first, because the rest of the team is not going to be willing to make the assumption that it’s safe,” Kriens said. “That’s all going to be withheld in an environment that doesn’t have trust in it. The leader’s got to be the one that shows up first to build that trust or it won’t happen.”
Leaders face what Rajeev Peshawaria calls the “21st century leadership dilemma,” a problem the former chief learning officer at Coca-Cola and Morgan Stanley spells out in his book “Open Source Leadership.” According to his research, autocratic, top-down leadership is what is needed to create results in today’s high-speed environment but that has to co-exist with less control, more volatility and heightened transparency.
“Welcome to the open source era where one of the key skills leaders will need is to balance seemingly opposite ideas,” he said.
He recommends that leaders focus on “positive autocracy,” an approach that includes behaviors like listening, learning and reflecting continuously and being autocratic about values and purpose while remaining humble.
Leadership is a desire to create a better future, he said, and the most successful leaders are able to persevere against the odds because of the clarity and conviction of their personal values and purpose.
“Leadership development should accordingly move away from superficial competency models, best practices and role-plays toward helping people uncover their leadership energy by clarifying their values and purpose,” Peshawaria said.
Evolution in Development
For some companies, that means thinking about leadership development as journeys rather than programs.
Like many service businesses, Havas Health & You, a New York-based advertising and communication agency, didn’t focus much on leadership development. They would often hire leaders from the outside rather than develop them internally. The extent of leadership development often consisted of hiring a coach for a top executive.
“We realized we needed to do much more,” said Pat Chenot, Havas Health & You executive vice president and chief learning officer.
Leadership is about two things: competence and connection, he said. The company supports competence through Havas University, a corporate university run by the agency’s parent company, as well as a tailored learning platform called YoU Central that houses Havas Health & You-centric training and development.
But it’s in connection where Chenot thinks they can make the most difference. “We really believe very strongly … that it’s so important to build trust and communication and that emotional intelligence is even more important than IQ,” he said.
As part of its flagship Developing Leaders Program, high-potential leaders are invited to participate in a nine-month development experience that includes leadership development workshops, one-on-one coaching and a designated executive mentor.
Fundamental to the program is an emotional intelligence assessment and 360-degree review that aims to help leaders understand themselves as leaders before they turn to how they lead others. The program’s tagline “Becoming a Better Leader Through Introspection to Inspiration” brought home the point.
“As our leaders deal with organizational changes and a constantly shifting industry and world, we want them to be also capable and prepared to cope with change and to be more resilient,” Chenot said.
Gartland would share the results of his 360 with his team, something no other leader had done before at Avis Budget. “I said, ‘This is what you guys said. These are the things that I can’t change and these are the things that I heard and I’m going to change. And if I’m not doing it, call foul.’ ”
That level of personal vulnerability and openness has the added benefit of encouraging and increasing connection among others. At Havas Health & You, while many of the leadership development participants worked in the same building, they didn’t even know each other, Chenot said.
Gartland took the personal connection one step further when he was named president of Avis Budget. He set out on a bus tour to get to know the 22,000 employees scattered throughout North America. “We went 18,000 or 22,000 miles in a bus over 12 weeks and shook hands and personally talked and hugged and served lunches,” he said.
Several years later, he still hears from people who remember that trip. “When you make that kind of impression on people and they know you care, they stay late,” he said. “They work like crazy. They take care of the customer. They do the right thing. It just changes everything.”
When leadership development fails it is because it does not focus on what Peshawaria calls “emotional integrity” or the courage to admit what one really wants for oneself.
“Great leadership happens when one is clear about the ‘why’ of their leadership, not just with the ‘what’ and ‘how,’ ” said Peshawaria. “It is the ‘why’ that keeps one going in the face of formidable resistance.”
Technology Transforming Practice
Success also hinges on integrating leadership development across the enterprise. At BNY Mellon, the company refreshed and focused leadership competencies on two priorities: client focus and cultivating innovation.
The idea was to create a shared concept about leadership at BNY Mellon that could be applied at all levels. Tyazhelkova said the goal was to touch 70 to 80 percent of the company’s 8,000 managers through leadership development programs targeted at four distinct levels: executives, senior leaders, front-line managers and new managers.
“We as a business are transforming and preparing ourselves for the new world where technology and digital plays a much bigger role,” she said. “Hence you have to start preparing with a really consistent approach across the organization. So what we did with our programs is we don’t just pick a small group of anointed leaders across the board. The program is available to all.”
While the model is consistent, the application is different based on the participants’ organizational level. Executives focus on strategy and meet in person in two cohorts of 30 to 40 people at the bank’s New York headquarters. Leaders in the other levels participate virtually in cohorts by region to promote connections among the group and focus on execution.
Technology is central to BNY Mellon’s leadership approach, allowing the firm to bring together people to learn and interact with one another in ways that would not be possible otherwise. The cohort approach is key, allowing people to discuss and debate application of management leadership principles and ideas in the context of their environment.
“You can do leadership development virtually,” Tyazhelkova said. “You can put it together as a consistent, coherent approach and you can build functional interaction where people are not always in the same room with their colleagues. It is possible.”
McGraw-Hill Education has taken a similar approach to leadership development, creating a core of leadership competencies that can be scaled by level and infusing it with technology.
“In the seven years I’ve been at McGraw-Hill Education we’ve completely changed our approach to leadership development,” Janis said. “The methodology has progressed beyond full-day, face-to-face training to blended learning with robust experiential and social components.”
As a result, within two years of launching the company’s flagship Catalyst leadership program nearly every employee of the company reported to someone who had participated.
Havas Health & You plans to expand its use of technology for leadership development but is doing so cautiously. “We could quadruple the numbers that we run through this program if we did Skype and if we did more online,” Chenot said. “In my opinion, we dilute the effectiveness of it. We continue to really focus on face to face but we need to use technology more to really leverage the effect of all the things that we’re teaching these individuals.”
Technology is central to how Martin Lanik sees the future of leadership development. Lanik, the CEO of Pinsight, a leadership technology platform and author of “The Leader Habit,” said the problem in leadership development has been execution.
“We’ve been trying to turn managers into coaches for over two decades now,” he said. “I don’t think we succeeded as a field. They don’t know how to measure on a daily basis or even a weekly basis whether somebody is in fact improving and giving them real-time feedback.”
Automation is the key from his perspective, and this is where technology can help. Leadership is a series of behaviors that can be broken down into smaller micro-behaviors that can be practiced until they become automatic. Using a software simulation, leaders assess their skills and personality and generate a development plan and daily exercises that can be practiced.
Traditional approaches to leadership development are simply not enough, Lanik said.
“[CLOs] need to identify the key behaviors and then have a very simple process to turn those behaviors into habits. We do this naturally. We intuitively get that because we do it in many other fields. For whatever reason, leadership is the one that seems to be still lacking.”
Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editor in chief of Talent Economy. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.