By Pattarasak Uttamayodhin
Special to The Nation
Published on August 17, 2011
Executives of the 21st century face a constantly growing variety of challenges. They must create a flourishing enterprise in spite of increasing global competition and cope with political complexity, rapidly changing technologies, economic uncertainty and transition to a service-oriented economy.
However, an even more challenging issue - but one that is largely unrecognised - is the ageing of the workforce and the subsequent loss of leadership expertise.
According to AMA Enterprise, a division of the American Management Association, more than 60 per cent of senior management believe their companies are "not well prepared" to deal with the sudden loss of a key member, especially in an unstable economy.
The ageing workforce and the loss of critical leadership skills and knowledge is an issue we should be confronting right now. If we don't face it now, when should it be tackled? Just how prepared are we to replace the leadership that is starting to leave the workforce? And what qualities should we seek to develop in our emerging leaders?
There are seven key truths for leadership development that have neither changed over time, nor have they been affected by evolving market conditions.
-Good leaders embrace change
Every market and industry is an ongoing source of change. Visionary leaders learn to use this change to gain strategic advantage, and these are the leaders whose organisations will succeed and thrive. Leaders who resist change and fail to perceive new opportunities offered by changing market conditions often get left behind and ultimately fail.
-Good leaders have both soft and hard skills
Executive-talent assessment often evaluates two dimensions in leaders: character and competency. One leader may have highly developed professional or technical skills. Another may have strong social skills and personal integrity. Both can be strong assets for an organisation. But it is the leader who excels in both character and competency, and who manages from both "sides", that will inspire employees to extend themselves for the sake of the organisation and strive for excellence.
-Good leaders are trusted because they are trustworthy
Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship between leadership and staff. It is the basis upon which commitments are made. It is also what motivates employees to embrace an organisation's goals and make them their own. Yet good leaders do not expect trust because of their title or position of authority. Good leaders know trust has to be earned. Strong executive leaders actually begin by trusting in their staff before asking the staff to trust them; they give trust and get trust in return.
-Good leaders are created; they are not born for the job
Leadership styles are molded and adapted throughout a life of learning experiences. Leaders are formed by their environment; a person's leadership style is not established at birth. While some people are born "natural leaders", it is not because of their DNA, but because of their ability and willingness, conscious or not, to improve their leadership skills. Good leaders actually develop their leadership skills as the world changes and business needs evolve.
-Good leaders develop other good leaders
Successful leaders not only develop their own leadership competencies, but they also develop leadership competencies in their employees. The strongest leadership is shared leadership, where good and successful leaders provide high potential talent with leadership opportunities so that they can learn from their successes and failures and have "room" to grow into successful leaders.
-Good leaders view the world
Successful leaders are capable of a 360-degree perspective, which means they are able to consider and evaluate all possible scenarios to achieve their business goals and objectives. This ability requires vision. Furthermore, it requires creativity and curiosity to explore all the "what ifs", and the courage to act upon those scenarios to provide new opportunities and paths for success.
-Good leaders are good buyers and not just good sellers
Successful leaders know how to sell a vision, motivate a team and inspire action. But they also know how to accept their staff for who and what they are, and to employ their innate skills. This requires an ability to recognise the unique values and abilities that each employee has and to use these abilities and values for the common good. It also requires believing in, trusting and respecting others.
In summary, there is no quick way to develop good leaders. While some of us are born with innate leadership competencies, all of us are "created" by continuously adapting to changing business, political, technical and social environments and by self-learning and self-development. With a looming shortage of leaders, we cannot simply hope that good leaders will emerge. Instead, we need to proactively address the challenge now, before the challenge becomes a business and economic crisis.
Pattarasak Uttamayodhin is a government-sector practice leader at organisational and people-development consultancy APMGroup. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org