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More leaders sooner: 5 ways to accelerate your leadership pipeline

Samuel Lam, President of Linkage Asia, explains why successful leadership is the responsibility not only of top management, but of every individual within the company.


Over the past two decades, the changes in business practice have completely redefined what leadership means today.

We’ve come a long way from when leadership used to be just about a senior executive directing their team in the pursuit of an organisation’s goals. That kind of leadership was personality-driven – propelled by whatever an individual’s dominant traits and characteristics were. Companies can’t survive with that kind of leadership today.

We’ve all heard of leaders and companies that didn’t want to change with the times and weren’t able to revive themselves from the downfall they had steered themselves to. The pace of disruption is high and the demands for time, results and output are picking up – plus the models of leadership and leaders have changed to emphasise effectiveness and shared focus.

The modern workplace needs a different leadership style and mindset from leaders where everyone in the company can look at themselves as a leader and be able to contribute in ways that help the team and move the organisation forward. Managers can’t just be managers anymore – they’re also expected to inspire their teams and develop them for the future.

For instance, in this disruptive age, the responsibility for innovation can’t remain solely with top management. Organisations need innovation to come from everyone and realise that they need to have a culture of innovation. However, to build that culture, they need to have leaders who understand this and can engage their teams to innovate.

Successful leadership is no longer synonymous with achievement; it’s not just about business growth anymore. To be effective in today’s fast-paced and complex world, a leader needs to be agile; have a sense of purpose; have a strategic vision; be inspirational and engaging; be able to deal with ambiguity and complexity; be able to coach and build teams; and be innovative – all at the same time.

Samuel Lam
Samuel Lam

Leadership acceleration is essential

Have you taken a look at recent statistics on the future of our global workforce? Eighty-four per cent of organisations today anticipate a shortfall of leaders in the next five years. Ten thousand baby boomers (born 1946–64) retire each day and nearly half of all millennials (born 1983–2000) will occupy the workforce by 2020.

How can organisations create leaders who have the knowledge, skills, experience and wisdom to close the gap that the baby boomers will leave? Effective leadership is the only way to manoeuvre through this and prepare for the future.

Organisations need to be able to define what leadership means for them and to have both sturdy existing leadership and a solid pipeline of capable executives, who have the skills and the character needed to take up leadership roles in the future. This is what makes leadership acceleration not only essential but also indispensable.

Leadership – how to develop and coach individual leaders and leadership teams, and build organisational capability – needs to be made easy and simple for leaders today who are busier than ever.

Advancement can no longer be left only to those who have years of experience, as in the past. Though rising budgets for corporate learning and development signify that many organisations realise the need for accelerating leadership development, not many organisations are using those budgets to accelerate leadership development at all levels.

The need for more leaders sooner requires us to think differently about how leaders are formed and will require that we think differently about talent readiness, essentially, replacing some of the work-based experiences and time for growth we once relied on to populate our succession plans and leadership benches.

More than ever, organisations need to rely on all available talent to step up and step into leadership. This means leadership is now synonymous with inclusion. Gone are the days when leaders learned about ‘difference’ in basic diversity training or simply took for granted that there is a dominant ‘way’ to lead that is representative of most top management.

5 ways to develop your talent now

All leaders, with an eye on developing future leaders, will need to question deeply held assumptions about what leadership looks like and how to facilitate ways for everyone to step up. Specifically:

  1. How we interview, coach and review the performance of diverse talent must be grounded in bias awareness and an insatiable curiosity and openness. We can’t afford to shut out those who can’t – or won’t – lead. This means thinking differently and openly about everything from where and how we get work done to the kinds of communication practices we employ, making room for different styles and approaches.
  2. How we think about ‘readiness’ and ‘risk-taking’. We know women, for example, are still promoted based on performance, while men are promoted based on potential. To accelerate leadership, we need to first become aware of beliefs that may be causing constraints, and then take more chances on not only women but also other members of underrepresented groups who may not look or act the way those in many leadership positions do. We need everyone.
  3. As leaders, when we try to develop the individual talent available in our teams, we need to follow the ‘teach-do-feedback-do’ cycle to accelerate development. This is where you show the ropes to your team members, make them do what is required of them, give them feedback, and then make them do it again. This cycle should repeat itself until they have become confident and an expert at it.
  4. When we do elevate any talented leader in an accelerated fashion, we must ensure the leader has strong support and sponsorship (advocacy, just-in-time coaching and development) if we want them to succeed. This applies to women especially, because of the perceived risk often associated with these appointments as well as some of the ways women speak about themselves (often offering a full picture of their capability, complete with areas they may not feel as confident in).
  5. Coaching skills (early, often and just-in-time feedback) for leaders will become essential. We know that underrepresented populations receive less feedback – ultimately doing them and the organisations they work for a disservice regarding the full value these groups can add to leadership.

To be successful and meet the future head-on, organisations must adopt a mindset that grasps the need for the development of its leaders, challenges conventions and recognises the learning styles of the modern workforce, to accelerate leadership and create a stronger bench strength that is ready for the next level. Remember, we need everyone.

About Linkage

Linkage is a global leadership and organisational development consulting firm, headquartered in Boston, US. For more than 30 years, Linkage has strengthened leaders and helped organisations to build cultures and teams that deliver superior results.Since 1988, Linkage has worked with more than a million business leaders to design scalable leadership solutions.

Among its clients are Fortune 1000 organisations and leaders, start-ups and the public sector. Linkage operates 13 offices worldwide and works with world-class coaches, consultants and educators to deliver custom solutions via proven methodologies and action learning approaches. Linkage Asia Pte Ltd., Singapore is the company’s regional headquarters for Asia.

Take the first step towards accelerating leadership in your organisation: attend Linkage’s Global Institute for Leadership Development® (GILD) Asia from 8–12 July 2019 in Singapore.

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