Leadership succession used to look something like a conveyor belt, with leaders progressing at a regular pace, another always following behind. It wasn’t quite that simple, but it was certainly more linear, more defined. That’s no longer the case. And as organisations look to their traditional succession programs for future-ready leaders, they are more often than not coming up empty.

The lack of future-readiness inhouse and the coming talent crunch mean a new approach is needed. Leadership development needs to be reimagined as a career-long journey embedded in daily work. In complete contrast to the traditional approach, this journey will embrace all the twists and turns of a modern career as a critical feature, rather than seeing them as a distraction.

15% is not enough

Korn Ferry’s latest research report, The Self-Disruptive Leader, finds that just 15 percent of  today’s leaders are future ready. With such a limited pool, organisations have no choice but to focus on developing leaders from within. The external market simply won’t have enough leaders to go around.

But for most organisations there’s a lot of work needed to build an internal development culture that’s fit for purpose. A Korn Ferry study found that organisations generally operate with a 50/50 “build” versus “buy” ratio to fill leadership gaps, even though they say the ideal ratio, based on current best practices, is 67 percent “build” and 33 percent “buy.”

In short, the leadership challenge faced by organisations is big. And it requires an equally big shift to meet it.

A new, nimble approach to leadership development

It’s easy to make the case for change, but knowing what to do in response is far more complex. Today’s leadership development approach must prepare leaders for a completely unknown future. Development can no longer focus on building certain capabilities to create a pre-specified skill set; planning now for a specific leadership need five years away just won’t work anymore. Instead, the process of succession needs to be as nimble as future leaders will need to be.

Moving candidates between teams and divisions regularly will become the new norm. Careers will replicate the breadth of change and challenges that future leaders will be expected to navigate. These leaders will be change-natives.

The result is that leadership development is wholly embedded within the business, rather than viewed as a separate stream. This way, organisations will nurture multiple potential leaders with a diverse skill set and a holistic perspective.

Three ways to embed leadership development

This new approach to development shouldn’t be confused with business as usual. The mere fact of moving candidates through a series of roles isn’t in itself “development.” Successfully embedding leadership development in the business requires a significant cultural shift led by the C-suite on the macro level and real goals and accountabilities at the individual level.

Most critically, it means thinking about talent as a system—including recruitment, compensation, training, development, and succession planning. These functions and programs may need a full revamp to ensure that organisations widen and maintain a flow of diverse talent, especially of hard-to-find Self-Disruptive Leaders.

In beginning to develop this system, businesses should focus on three key points:

  • Develop new mindsets: Traditional leadership development focuses on skills and behaviours, but this needs to shift to prioritising with mindset development to successfully advance new Self-Disruptive Leaders.
  • Open up leadership development opportunities: Embedding leadership development requires a cultural shift. Traditionally, a select few have been chosen and their focused development has swallowed up the great majority of resources. Organisations now need to empower everyone, at all levels, to develop their leadership capabilities.
  • Foster “always-on” development: Development should no longer be compartmentalised. Training opportunities should be easy to navigate and efforts rewarded, cutting through the busy-ness of day-to-day work.

The usual routes to leadership aren’t delivering the right kinds of leader. Embedding leadership as part of the organisation’s talent system will empower individuals to embrace self-disruption. It really is about the journey.

Learn more about building a pipeline of Self-Disruptive Leaders in our latest report.

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About Contributor

Gareth is a Managing Director for Korn Ferry in Singapore. His key area of expertise is in designing and implementing initiatives for senior leaders to drive executive team effectiveness and internal development needs. He uses his natural coaching skills in working with senior executives to not only identify and assess their Leadership Development needs, but also to support them as they focus on specific skills to enhance their leadership effectiveness.

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