Leadership development by leaps and bounds is a CEO affair

by Amr Ismail (Miro)

The CEO is the chief role model of leadership in a company, and trickling down from there are four aces of success: leadership style, leadership development, team culture, and innovation.

The top priority for CEO’s and organizations today is the accelerated development of leadership, the broadening of the definition of leadership to be more inclusive, and elevating the learning of individual and collective capacity to engage in leadership processes – an inherent part of leadership development.

Scientific research and studies of Leadership and leadership development in organizations are still at an early stage, and no clear-cut agreement on definitions, theory, or indicators, yet there is a collective agreement that leadership development is assigned to the expansion of the capacity of individuals to be effective in leadership roles and processes. Particular attention is given to the social relationship between leaders and followers in how leadership plays out and in how it can support the organization’s strategic goal.

I have always believed that the capacity of an incoming leader at an early stage of the career path is like that of the talent of an aspiring Olympic athlete, it doesn’t go unnoticed, yet it can only be developed in the leadership framework of the organization.

To become an aspiring leader, the journey is guided by the effectiveness of the organization’s clarity of direction, its leadership program, its team dynamics, and its willingness to push capacity development to the benefit of the leader and that of itself. Depending on the speed and applications of that capacity, the leader develops skills to reach an inspirational level which becomes, in turn, responsible for developing more leaders. Exposure to and entrenchment in multi-gender, multicultural, multigenerational, and multi discipline teams earlier on, serves to build a well-rounded leader who is forward thinking and self-advancing.

In the spirit of stimulating an intellectual conversation, we need to reflect on some factors that are considered important when profiling a leader’s capacity and what is meant by the development of that capacity. Some personality traits, like a strong identity, emotional stability, avid listening, risk level, type and level of group interaction, degree of influence on others, extent of openness to experiment and experience, humility, intelligence and self-awareness are a good start to profile a potentially good leader. Without the existence of these traits in a leader, leadership development in an organization is tasked with intensive targeted training with the aim to develop each trait, and continue to direct, and redirect, the leader toward becoming an effective and inspiring one.

Throw in to the list of personal traits knowledge and skills to perform a specific job as a specialist, in addition to competencies to collaborate with others to complete a task or a project, and we have a good mix of personal traits and technical skills to induct someone in a successful leadership program.

There is no doubt that type of work roles and experience can lead to achieving higher levels of leadership competencies when combined with the cognitive ability of the leader.

As for strategic thinking competency, which is an imperative trait in a leader, a global strategic mindset is the signature of the undisputed business leader of today, and here we must stop and pause for a while. In my opinion the ultimate global experience is not just about being an expat in a foreign country, working with other nationalities, travelling, or speaking a foreign language. It is much more than that; it begins by having an acute intellect and great aptitude for studies of culture, personalities and work ethics of different regions of the world. It also begins by physically and psychologically transcending national barriers, be open and curious to learn and apply different practices, delve into what is insecure, broken, unfamiliar or vague. We need to acknowledge that such experience can’t happen entirely in a work context. Mastering a cross culture mindset is by no means only dependent on work or studying experience, but initially on personal traits which enable the individual to develop in that direction.

It is key to validate the global mindset of a leader when we set to organize teams and matrix reporting in international organizations, whether we see leadership as a relationship or as a mutually influencing process. This becomes important in uncertain times or in volatile environments when roles may rotate, and power sharing is exercised. A feeling of security and comfort about working with team members, knowledge of the competencies and mindset of each team member forms a shared vision of how best to achieve tasks, and eventually team leadership takes shape. Words like trust, positive stress, transparency, shared team learning take hold and define teamwork. Team leadership forms an open and interactive system to mobilize, organize, and lead efforts to adapt to internal and external environments, as well as changes in what the workplace and markets demand.

There are some questions CEO’s, learning and development managers continue to ask when it comes to innovating leader and leadership development, for example:

How to foster shared and distributed leadership in a hierarchical structure, especially in organizations without a strong project management culture?

Does leadership development automatically translate into the desired team culture? And if not, where to start, leader development or team culture development? Is there a conflict?

Is the support provided for leaders and team development enough? If not, what kind of support is overlooked? And what are the right conditions?

How to form cooperation between board of directors and HR in prioritizing the organization’s culture as a driver in leadership development?

How does a family owned business or a startup fit into the paradigm of shared and distributed leadership?

What is the quickest route to developing a globally minded organization and leadership program from the bottom up?

How does the organization risk management culture tie in with how effective leadership development is?

Company readiness must coincide with employee readiness to implement a successful leadership development program. Internal capabilities may sometimes surprise, and external help may sometimes disappoint, so looking inward first for good solutions is a wise course of action.