The creation of leadership weighs heavily on the minds of top corporate executives. That’s not surprising given the structural changes we have seen in the economy and the increasingly global and virtual nature of the workplace.
However, the ability of today’s leaders to engage the hearts and minds of people around the globe has proven difficult—especially in emerging economies, where plentiful job opportunities and rising salaries make it difficult to hold on to the best and brightest employees. (Also read: The key qualities of an emerging leader)
What can organizations do to develop the next generation of smarter leaders? IBM’s research and experience points to three areas:
Look beyond headquarters
Rising stars can emerge from anywhere, so it’s important to identify and cultivate rising stars regardless of location. Create programmes that provide your emerging leaders with enriching experiences, and be sure to connect them with mentors who can give them the right guidance and global perspective. (Also read: Emerging concept: Higher ambition leadership)
One approach is to bring together teams from different parts of the business to solve real-world problems—such as evaluating new markets or responding to changing demographics. You could even offer short-term, focused opportunities to work in new markets or geographies; exposing people to new experiences without the time and costs associated with long-term expatriate programmes.
For example, at IBM, we have the Corporate Service Corps, which provides top performers with the chance to work in an emerging economy on a service-related project for two-three months. Participants quickly become immersed in the local environment and work with governments, non-governmental organizations and local businesses to solve difficult problems, such as helping local artisans in Ghana develop a global online business.
Look for opportunities to spur creative approaches to leadership. You may want to try new ways to invite, persuade and influence your employees to participate in decision making, using social media and other innovative communication channels. Be sure to think outside the firewall: It’s important for emerging leaders to gain insights and develop relationships with key stakeholders outside your organization, such as customers, suppliers, academics and trade associations.
Maxis Communications, a big telecommunications provider in Malaysia, recently took its senior leadership team on a study tour of the US, focusing on content providers, movie studios, and emergent start-ups in the Silicon Valley area. The group used social networking tools, such as Twitter and Foursquare, to share insights and take questions from employees in their home countries. Not only did senior leaders gain new insights, they became familiar with many of the tools their employees were using.
Treat leadership like an investment
Since there is no single solution to the contours of leadership development in an organization, make sure your approach reflects your particular geographical mix of future business locations, employees and customers.Track the career and skills development of your workforce and continuously assess the progress of employees with leadership potential.
Shell, one of the world’s largest petrochemicals companies, has taken a more systematic approach to managing its leadership pipeline. This involved analysing the top 450 leaders across the organization by tenure and performance. Shell also examined the routes these executives had taken to see whether they were acquiring the skills required to run a variety of business units. Shell now has a clearer picture of the calibre and coverage of the leadership pipeline, and short- and medium-term succession plans that ensure business continuity for critical leadership roles. (Also read: Harvard Business Publishing survey: Leadership development trends)
Tapping into an organization’s creativity, flexibility and speed requires today’s leaders to solve old problems and capitalize on new possibilities. Focusing on developing the leaders of tomorrow is an investment that organizations can ill-afford to pass up.