Developing the Next Generation of High Potential Leaders

By: Prof. Sattar Bawany, Managing Director, EDA Asia Pacific & C-Suite Master Executive Coach 

Developing the Next Generation of High Potential Leaders“It is evident that conventional leadership development practices are no longer adequate. Organizations globally need to incorporate the next-generation leadership competencies in order to address the development needs of their next generation of leaders. Organizations need to incorporate a different form of development activities for their next generation of leaders, which are likely to include executive coaching, mentoring, personal development, and stretch assignments. Other development activities include psychometric assessments, managerial coaching, performance feedback, and customized training programs developed by internal staff.  

All of these activities have strong developmental value as components of an overall executive leadership development strategy. In addition, the organization needs to ensure that these future leaders, including high potentials, are also equipped with cognitive readiness & critical thinking skills and emotional & social intelligence (ESI) competencies needed for sustained success and effectiveness in a highly disruptive and increasingly digital driven VUCA environment era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).” 

– Prof. Sattar Bawany (2019) 

Transforming the Next Generation of Leaders: Developing Future Leaders for a Disruptive, Digital-Driven Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0)  

The identification, assessment, selection, and development of next gen leaders including high potentials is a cornerstone of the talent strategy of many leading and successful organizations. If an organization can identify early from their people those with high potential for leadership, it can concentrate resources on developing these people to help them realize their potential. Through this process, it can efficiently build up a leadership bench strength and a pipeline of talent who can eventually be the leaders of the organization. 

The once identifiable boundaries of our marketplaces and industries have become permeable. Now they shift continuously, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but always feeling slightly beyond our grasp. In this new business environment, leaders must realize that a sustainable future is only possible if organizations can sense, adapt, and respond to change and if they can help their organizations reinvent with an evolving and rapidly changing world. 

Leading in the future has seen a common theme emerge—managing challenges in a business environment that is disrupted and predominantly digital. Technological advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, sharing platforms, and the Internet of Things are fundamentally altering business models and industries. These changes are often not only alien to businesses, but they are also taking place at an unprecedented speed. How do we equip and transform the next generation of leaders with the relevant skills and competencies to meet these challenges? 

Studies have shown the climate for creativity in organizations is directly attributable to leadership behavior. What this means is that leaders must act in ways that promote and support organizational innovation by demonstrating specific competencies, skills, and behaviors known as cognitive readiness that would support an innovative and knowledge-driven learning organization. 

This new normal is challenging leaders to find new ways to lead their organizations and achieve sustained success as reflected in th2019 Trends in Executive Development: A Benchmark Report. 

Top Trends & Best Practices in Developing Leaders 

Factors around us continue to change the world at a high speed. This naturally impacts the way organizations do business, and the way executives need to act and lead for the business to thrive. The Results of the EDA 2019 Trends in Executive Development Survey reveal shifting trends in the market and the need to re-focus the learning and development efforts for future leaders. 

The most influential conditions impacting executive development demonstrate that addressing key business issues and challenges is the top priority for the next two to three years (See Figure 1). 

Figure 1:

Developing the Next Generation of High Potential Leaders - Fig. 1

However, accelerating the development of high potentials comes in as a strong second, appearing for the first time since 2009. The global economic climates in 2009 and 2018 both reflect the significant change, which is likely the cause for the resurgence of this trend. 

In the years between 2009 and 2018, the economy was recovering from the 2008 financial slump, and senior leaders who were still employed stayed in their roles. Turnover was low, and as a result, little importance was placed on succession planning. This meant that there was no need to focus on accelerating leaders’ development. 

In 2018, a new shift occurred. The economy started moving and so did executives. Now on their way to retirement or willing to change companies, the time has come to focus on the up-and-comers. In fact, over 50% of the organizations surveyed feel that their bench strength is weaker than it was two years ago. 

Top methodologies for developing executives are conferences, executive coaching, mentoring, experience-based leadership development (action learning and business simulations), and assessments followed by development feedback (See Figure 2). 

Figure 2:

Developing the Next Generation of High Potential Leaders - Fig. 2

Conferences are the primary way leaders will experience development. Executive coaching and mentor follow in suit. Senior executives rely more on individual coaching, whereas high potential leaders receive more mentoring. 

Experience-based development (action learning and business simulations) have become more mainstream. These approaches are considered more engaging than traditional lecture and case-based approaches. Additionally, these methodologies provide rich opportunities for leaders to immerse themselves in the strategic context of their business, allowing them to learn by doing and make mistakes in a risk-free environment. 

Additionally, assessments followed by development feedback have grown in popularity due to their effectiveness and rich feedback components. 

Resolving Challenges for Leaders in Transition 

In a longitudinal research by EDA Strategic Partner in Asia Pacific, the Centre of Executive Education’s (CEE), the results of which was published in the book Transforming the Next Generation of Leaders (2019), it was found that newly transitioned leaders fail due to one or more of the following factors.Developing the Next Generation of High Potential Leaders - Fig. 3

  1. They do not fit into the organizational culture. 
  2. They don’t build a team or become part of one. 
  3. They are unclear about their stakeholders’, in particular, their bosses’ expectations. 
  4. They fail to execute the organization’s strategic or business plan. 
  5. They lack savvy about maneuvering and managing internal politics. 
  6. There is no formal process to assimilate them into the organization. 

Leadership development support including executive coaching and mentoring programs has proven to be critical and highly effective as it provides support to the newly-hired executive and helps the organization protect its executive development investment. 

The biggest trap that new leaders fall into is to believe that they will continue to be successful by doing what has made them successful in the past. There is an old saying, “To a person who has a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” So too it is for leaders who have become successful by relying on certain skills and abilities. Too often they fail to see that their new leadership role demands different skills and abilities. And so, they fail to meet the adaptive challenge. This does not, of course, mean that new leaders should ignore their strengths. It means that they should focus first on what it will really take to be successful in the new role, then discipline themselves to do things that don’t come naturally if the situation demands it. 

The new leaders need to reflect on and examine their own leadership attitude and perspective and develop a plan to work on areas that need improvement. Whether a manager is moving into a new position or looking to get back on the road to success, executive or transition coaching can work to bring out the best in the new leaders through the support of a professional relationship. The relationship must be built on a foundation of trust and confidentiality. The ability of coaches to provide leaders as an outside resource that can also act as a sounding board can help them become the successful leaders they were meant to be. 

About the Author: 

Professor Sattar Bawany is the Managing Director & C-Suite Master Executive Coach with Executive Development Associates (EDA) in Asia Pacific. He is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Executive Education (CEE). EDA is the Strategic Partner of Centre for Executive Education (CEE) in offering a suite of Executive Development solutions in the Asia Pacific region. 

Prof. Bawany is also an Adjunct Professor of Leadership and member of the Advisory Board of the Curtin Graduate School of Business (CGSB) of Curtin University, Australia. 

His latest book on “Transforming NextGen Leaders: Meeting the Leadership Challenges in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0)” was recently published by Business Expert Press (BEP) LLC in New York in July of 2019.