Industry Insights

The Death of the Hero Leader and the Future of Leadership Development Programs

Posted by Corwin Vandermark on Feb 28, 2019 10:00:00 AM

In our recent white paper on leadership development trends, we touched on the need for leaders of the future need to be self-aware and seek to develop themselves while empowering their people to do the same. In this post, we expand on this point and reflect on high-level implications for leadership development programs.

The future of leadership development programs and a new leader

R.I.P. The Hero Leader

The traditional “hero leader” – the business leader who knows everything, has seen all situations, and can jump in to overcome any challenge and solve any problem – is a relic of the past. Part of the reason for this is technological. The breadth of available information and the speed at which it flows continues to increase and to “know everything” is no longer possible. In addition, centralized hierarchies that restricted interaction and sharing between individuals are now giving way to flatter organizations where information flows relatively freely.

Organizations also recognize that this type of leader can undermine colleagues and the company mission in several ways. First, he or she may micro-manage team members, thus reducing speed of action, a major disadvantage in today’s ultra-fast and competitive environment. The long-term health of an organization also suffers when hero leaders try to take on the work of direct reports. This not only creates a dependency on the leader, but it also prevents subordinates from taking responsibility for their roles and learning from successes and failures. Consequently, the hero leader hinders individual development, obstructs knowledge transfer, and diminishes the quality of talent moving through the leadership pipeline, ultimately damaging the organization long after the hero leader is gone.

Enter the Self-Aware Leader

Tomorrow’s leaders are well-networked, have cross-functional knowledge, and collaborate well with others. They must have the confidence and emotional maturity to be comfortable working with independent, highly-motivated team members who have varied expertise and possess knowledge that the leader does not. Such leaders know that their role is to articulate a compelling vision and then inspire and guide people to help achieve the organization’s goals.

To become a self-aware leader, one must:

  • embrace a growth mindset,
  • continuously augment their own capabilities,
  • be introspective and reflect on how well-equipped they are for the challenges they face,
  • as well as be aware of the knowledge and skill gaps they need to address.

With this awareness, they can seek internal or external leadership development programs that enable them to not only onboard necessary business skills, but to also better manage, coach, and mentor their people. By developing skills in the areas of connecting with others, giving advice, delivering feedback, and showing empathy, leaders empower and get the most out of their people, avoid stretching themselves so they can focus on the areas they can have the most impact, and set an excellent example of how to lead while developing oneself.

Future leaders will be required to empower teams

Enter the Empowering Leader

Effective leaders must also encourage the continuous development of their people and equip their teams with necessary skills and capabilities. The days of traditional career paths are over, and people must be more responsible for their own development; however, it is still critical for leaders to make sure that direct reports have the resources to autonomously drive their own growth. In addition, empowering leaders need to be able – and available – to offer advice, guidance, and validation along the journey.

An additional layer of complexity comes from the Three A’s that are causing people globally to worry about their future:

  • Automation
  • Algorithms
  • Artificial Intelligence

Whether one works on a factory floor, in a delivery truck, or in an office cubicle, countless roles are endangered as technology renders skills obsolete. People want to know that they can “future proof” their careers by developing the right skills and capabilities in their current roles. Leaders who keep their own careers on the path to “lifelong employability” can guide their people towards the same objective to stay ahead of technological advances.

How should this impact leadership development programs?

Leadership development programs fail unless they create leaders who are self-aware and empowering. Organizations and their learning and development partners need to design programs that address not only business acumen skills needed to succeed in a particular role, organization, or industry, but the “soft skills” that will enable them to help people be the best of who they are, regardless of background, expertise, or needs.

As leaders in a program will likely have individual requirements and areas for development, programs should be as customizable and personalized as possible. Effective leadership development programs will likely require a blended approach using online learning, remote or face-to-face synchronous sessions with cohorts of learners, and even individual coaching and mentoring sessions where they can experience what they should pass on to their own people and see “how it’s done.” Regardless of methodology, all content should tie back to practical, day-to-day application.

Adopting the Trends in Leadership Development Programs

As competitive intensity grows, every member of the organization must continue to develop. Engaged leaders who practice, encourage, and support continuous learning will be critical to gain and sustain competitive advantage.

StratX builds leadership development programs that empower current and future leaders to adopt a growth mindset and take charge of their careers to support their organizations’ business impacts. Download our free white paper on the emerging trends in leadership development to better develop the leader of the future.

Trends in Leadership White Paper

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Topics: Leadership Development

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