Transforming the next generation of leaders
Bridge have recently conducted a global research programme with their multi-national clients into the changing nature of 21st century leadership, looking at what are the underpinning capacities, skills, competences and mind-sets of the leaders that succeed in situations of significant complexity.
The summary below sets out Bridge’s outlook based on the outcomes of this applied research and our direct experience over the last twenty-five years in the field.
Leadership Re-framed – The Inquisitive Leader
In essence, the heart of the leadership challenge that confronts today’s leaders is learning how to lead in situations of ever greater volatility and uncertainty, allied with the needs to deal with scale, complexity and new organisational forms that often break with the traditional organisational models and structures within which many have learned their ‘leadership trade’. So the basic assumption that past experience is the key for future leadership success is more open to scrutiny than ever.
Indeed at the heart of much of Bridge’s research has been the paradox of how leaders can apply their experience in light of the new situation facing them. Whilst some aspects of leadership appear to be immutable (as captured elegantly in much of the recent work describing leadership authenticity), it is clear that one very particular leadership development challenge has to be met by today’s leaders if they are to be able to deal with the scale and complexity of change that will meet many of tomorrow’s leaders. We describe this as being able to make the essential leadership transition from the knowing leader to a truly inquisitive leader.
The inquisitive leader needs to develop the capacity to be deeply questioning, open and alert. This then has to be allied to a level of personal humility that at a fundamental level means that just because a leader is in charge, they do not think that they either do or even have to know the answer.
Similarly they do not see their past experience as a definitive teacher of future success. It may just be that the old winning formula simply won’t work. It also implies a level of conceptual and emotional agility that allows them to adapt to the unknown, learn quickly, and yet still know when they don’t know. Hence the old model of knowing leadership based on the value of past experience has to be merged with the capacity for real adaptability and learning agility.
It may also be true that we now have to challenge the basic leader-follower world view we have adopted for so long. In the world of unknown situation and unknown solution, it may be that we have to learn to lead in partnership.
It implies that we have to be able to share accountability to deliver solutions to complex problems, invest less authority in certain individuals, develop means of dialogue and discourse that pool the wisdom of collective minds and see leadership as more a process of evolving a joined up response to shared challenges and less a mechanism for investing too much power in the hands of too few people.
Insights on the Inquisitive Leader
In essence, the work has revealed the critical foundations of the inquisitive leader:
Figure 1 - Typical Foundations of the Inquisitive Leader
1. Learning agility and inquisitiveness: Past experience is seen as only a starting point rather than an implicit winning formula. They have a very unusual relationship to expertise. They see it as key but also a dangerous trap. They are also unusually energised by not knowing how to do things. This is beyond ‘managing ambiguity’, and more like thriving on chaos. Their relationship to risk and failure is accordingly very unusual.
2. Ego Maturity and Personal Qualities: Not needing to be right, not being over-identified with their role or status and demonstrating a lightness of touch are core to having an essential humility that nonetheless is allied to a sense of grounded confidence. They also inspire trust by the way they behave and what they do and stand for. They are warm and caring and genuinely interested in the people who work with and for them. Loyalty and respect with a lack of overt judgement typifies how they are with others. With themselves they are questioning and open to challenge. An improve mind-set is very much in evidence.
3. Personal Dynamism and Savvy: The combination of doing things that feel purposeful, a natural capacity for renewal and an associated ‘can do’ mind-set means they are seen as energising to be with and easy to believe in. The combination of traits means that people are far more likely to bring their best to situations feeling relaxed, valued, stretched and excited. The savvy attribute means they are able to apply past experience and current facts in such a way as to apply good judgement to doing the things that really count most and seeing ways around problems that others might not. They also tend to the unconventional when necessary, yet used grounded data in incisive and considered ways.
4. Balanced resilience: Uniquely they seem at their best when it matters the most. This is not simply about stepping up in the face of a crisis, it is about being able to avoid the stress triggers that undermine or de-rail so many leaders such that they exude calm in the face of adversity and certainty in the face of doubt. They also look after their bodies and minds in such a way that they seemed balanced despite being senior players.
Importantly, it has been found that leaders can make significant personal transformations in these underpinning capacities, skills, mind-sets and competencies, given the right support. The relevance of this research has a clear read across the commercial, public and third sectors, and is currently helping developing leaders with remarkable results across the globe.
Prof Sattar Bawany is the Senior Vice President of Bridge Asia-Pacific. Bridge is a wholly owned company of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the world’s largest professional chartered professional body for Human Resources and people development professional. Sattar has over 25 years international business management experience, including 15 years in executive coaching, group facilitation, and leadership development and training with global management consulting firms. He also has over 15 years of academic experience as an adjunct professor teaching senior executives international business strategies and HR courses at leading universities.
He is currently the Co-Chair of the Human Capital Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham) and the Honorary Academic Advisor and Member of the Governing Council of The International Professional Managers Association (IPMA). He is also the Adjunct Professor of Strategic Management from the Paris Graduate School of Management (PGSM). Before joining Bridge, he was the Managing Director and Talent Development/Coaching Practice Head for DBM Asia Pacific. Prior to DBM he assumed senior management positions with other global HR consulting firms such as Mercer HR Consulting, Forum Corporation and Hay Group.
Sattar has coached a range of leaders, from CEOs, to senior vice presidents and high potential managers. His current work in organisations focuses on encouraging individual initiative and leadership from a systemic perspective in order to achieve clearly defined business results. His specialty is effectively linking people processes to business outcomes. A seasoned coach, Sattar truly cares about others, listens with an open mind and adds value in unexpected ways.
He is a key note speaker at international and regional conferences, workshops and seminars on the following themes: executive leadership development, employee engagement and managing across the generational gap, strategic human resource management, and talent management and succession planning.
He is a Graduate of Corporate Coach U and a licensed Coaching Clinic facilitator. He is certified in the administration and application of various psychometric instruments including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™ (MBTI), Bar-On EQ 360™, EQ-i™, CCL’s Benchmarks® and Skillscope®.
Sattar holds an Executive MBA from Golden Gate University, US, and a Bachelor in Business Administration (Marketing) from Curtin University, Australia.