When Our World Falls Apart.

When Our World Falls Apart.

When external factors shift, we have an opportunity to rediscover our core, the only truly safe place to call home.

There are times when our whole world seems to be falling apart around us, and we are not sure what to hold onto anymore. Sometimes our relationships crumble and sometimes it’s our physical environment. At other times, we can’t put our finger on it, but we feel as if all the walls have fallen down around us and we are standing with nothing to lean on, exposed and vulnerable.

These are the times in our lives when we are given an opportunity to see where we have established our sense of identity, safety, and well-being. And while it is perfectly natural and part of our process to locate our sense of self in externals, any time those external factors shift, we have an opportunity to rediscover and move closer to our core, which is the only truly safe place to call home.

The core of our being is not affected by the shifting winds of circumstance or subject to the cycles of change that govern physical reality. It is as steady and consistent as the sun, which is why the great mystics and mystical poets often reference the sun in their odes to the self.

Like the sun, there are times when our core seems to be inaccessible to us, but this is just a misperception. We know that when the sun goes behind a cloud or sets for the night, it has not disappeared but is simply temporarily out of sight. In the same way, we can trust that our inner core is always shining brightly, even when we cannot quite see it.

We can cling to this core when things around us are falling apart, knowing that an inexhaustible light shines from within ourselves. Times of external darkness can be a great gift in that they provide an opportunity to remember this inner light that shines regardless of the circumstances of our lives.

When our external lives begin to come back together, we are able to lean a bit more lightly on the structures we used to call home, knowing more clearly than ever that our true home is that bright sun shining in our core.

By Madisyn Taylor

Unlocking Collective Intelligence

Unlocking Collective Intelligence

BL00 - Mindfulness Unlocks Your Company’s Collective Intelligence 3.jpg

By Christian Greiser, Jan-Philipp Martini, Liane Stephan, and Chris Tamdjidi

Does mindfulness foster an organization’s collective intelligence? A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Awaris demonstrated a connection: 31 teams (totaling 196 people) that participated in a ten-week mindfulness program showed an average increase of 13% in collective intelligence, as measured by tests developed by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

The concept of collective intelligence—the capability of a group of people to solve complex problems—is not new. But the increasing interconnectedness of knowledge work and the growing variety of problems have raised the profile of collective intelligence as a competitive differentiator. So, companies need to understand the concept more systematically and scientifically. 

One key to unlocking the potential of collective intelligence is mindfulness—a state of being present in the moment and leaving behind one’s tendency to judge. Leading companies have introduced programs to unleash the power of mindfulness among their employees. But most of these companies have not focused explicitly on the opportunities to use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence. 

Solving Today’s Complex Problems Requires Collective Intelligence

Companies today must manage rapid innovation cycles and the deep interconnectedness of knowledge work. To address the challenges, many companies are investing in setting up cross-functional, agile teams. But to transition to truly dynamic ways of working, a company must fundamentally transform how cross-functional teams interact and collaborate. This requires bringing forth an emergent property of their system: the collective intelligence of their teams

We define collective intelligence as a group’s ability to perform the wide variety of tasks required to solve complex problems. Collective intelligence is not dependent on team members’ IQ, knowledge, or ability to think logically or on the team’s composition. Instead, it is largely driven by team members’ unconscious processing: their emotional intelligence (people’s awareness of, and ability to manage, their own emotions and those of others) and emergent properties such as trust, emotional and psychological safety, and equality of participation. This description is supported by studies conducted by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and Google’s Project Aristotle. BCG’s experience across a large number of transformations to new ways of working and agile methods also points to emotional and noncognitive factors as the key drivers of collective intelligence. 

Tapping into the Power of Diversity

Diversity is among the foundational elements of a team’s collective intelligence. In this context, diversity should not be limited to gender or functional and educational backgrounds. What’s required is a diversity of cognitive styles—that is, different ways of thinking about, perceiving, and remembering information or simply different ways of solving problems or seeing the world. 

To tap into the power of diversity—with respect to both expertise and world views—a company must create an environment in which individuals are willing to risk stating their opinions and to be receptive to listening to others. This requires integrating a team’s diversity. 

Teams whose members are not well-integrated exhibit many dysfunctions. Members often lack a sense of joint purpose and struggle to engage in teamwork. The failure to properly integrate a team’s diversity can actually diminish its collective intelligence. 

Mindfulness Provides a Potential Solution 

Companies already apply approaches that foster collective intelligence. They are increasingly proficient at setting up diverse teams, breaking down organizational silos, and implementing open information systems. However, companies often do not explicitly recognize how these efforts relate to collective intelligence and thus they fail to capture the full benefits.

Most notably, companies are not doing enough to identify and address inadequate emotional safety and trust among team members. That is because most companies are not sufficiently aware of people’s unconscious interactions and do not understand how unconscious factors influence team performance. Most companies also lack the skills and perseverance to constructively address issues related to emotional safety and trust.

Mindfulness provides a potential solution for meeting these challenges. Many companies have introduced mindfulness into their organizations, primarily to help their employees maintain well-being and improve their clarity of thinking, cognitive abilities, and ability to stay calm. However, only a few organizations (progressive entities including the European Commission, Google, Hilti, and SAP) have also applied mindfulness to transform the collective capabilities of teams. 

Most people who regularly practice mindfulness have an intuitive understanding of its connection to collective intelligence. What’s more, the effect of mindfulness practice on collective intelligence is objectively measurable. Awaris and BCG conducted extensive research to confirm the hypotheses of this article. We measured the collective intelligence of 31 teams, totaling 196 people, from a large German automotive company and a political organization. We took measurements twice—before and after a ten-week mindfulness program. (See the sidebar “About the Study.”) After the mindfulness program, the teams’ collective intelligence—measured through four diverse problem-solving tasks—increased by an average of 13%. (See the exhibit.) Moreover, we found that mindfulness is significantly associated with emotional intelligence and that individual and group mindfulness scores predicted a team’s collective intelligence.

BL00 BCG Mindfulness_Research.png

Mindfulness practice fosters collective intelligence by allowing us to redirect our mental attention skills (for example, capabilities of the working memory or our ability to focus on the task at hand) toward more expansive, awareness-based skills. More specifically, mindfulness practice strongly influences a person’s self-awareness of the body’s internal state (interoception) and mental processes (metacognition). Interoception and metacognition help us regulate our reactions to emotions and behaviors. By improving our ability to get in touch with our own emotions, we also enhance empathy—our ability to vicariously share the experiences of others. 

By increasing self-awareness and empathy, mindfulness impacts two areas that directly promote collective intelligence: 

  • Communication and Prosocial Behavior. Team members who embrace mindfulness are better listeners and can react in an emotionally intelligent way when tension or disagreement arises. Their style of interaction encourages other team members to speak up and participate in creative processes and allows them to integrate their diverse cognitive styles. 
  • Leadership. Mindfulness training helps leaders improve their ability to self-reflect. Mindfulness is also associated with important leadership capacities such as flexibility, authenticity, and humbleness.

Three Steps to Applying Mindfulness 

To use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence, a company must take three steps. 

  1. Provide mindfulness training. Mindfulness practice comprises a set of mental and emotional exercises that affect the functioning of the brain in a measurable way. Several proven methods of mindfulness training can help team members and leaders establish a personal mindfulness practice.   
  2. Anchor mindfulness in teams. Mindfulness can evolve from a practice to a state and eventually become a trait—when the various underlying skills have become embedded in a person’s mental and emotional makeup. Team interactions provide valuable opportunities to embed these skills. To promote mindfulness, organizations must clearly state that teams should practice three simple types of habits that foster psychological safety and collective intelligence: 
  • Attention and Focus. Teams need to establish specific habits that promote attentiveness. For example, a team can observe one minute of silence before the start of each meeting. In addition, how team members deal with devices, listen to each other, and speak can significantly affect the degree of presence and openness in the meeting.  
  • Care and Positivity. When people feel trust, efficacy, and appreciation, they engage and contribute. When they do not, they hold back and divert their energy to other things. As a result, demonstrating care and positivity in teamwork—noticing what colleagues have achieved and done well and appreciating their contributions—can be very important to improving the sense of bonding and community. 
  • Emotional Awareness. Allowing emotions to surface and be expressed becomes a natural part of what it means to work together. Processes for surfacing emotions include having check-ins during which team members share how they feel emotionally before a meeting, as well as regular retrospectives in which members share their feelings on the interactions within their team. 
  1. Establish metrics and track behavior changes. Just as manufacturers meticulously track physical safety on their shop floors, companies should track emotional or psychological safety in their knowledge environments. As a starting point, companies can use surveys and interviews to ask employees whether they believe the company has clearly articulated that emotional safety and psychological safety are goals and whether they understand how to create such safety. 

Learning more: About the Study 

Thirty-one teams, composed primarily of people with managerial responsibilities, participated in a ten-week mindfulness training program that was specifically adapted to the work context. The study focused on investigating whether a team’s collective intelligence can be enhanced by mindfulness training of its members.

To measure collective intelligence, we used a set of four diverse tasks developed for this purpose by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence: 

  • Moral Reasoning. Teams received a case study of a problem that presented conflicting interests among several parties. We asked the teams to determine, from an ethical perspective, the most suitable solution for all parties. Responses were scored by the degree to which the groups considered the balance of competing perspectives in the problem.
  • Creativity. Teams had to build a complex Lego structure while taking into consideration tight constraints relating to size, quality, and aesthetics. The resulting Lego structure was scored on the accuracy of meeting those constraints. 
  • Output Optimization. Teams were scored after performing a shopping exercise in which they had to maximize the quantity and quality of goods purchased while minimizing the costs of goods and time spent shopping. 
  • Judgment. Teams had to estimate and agree upon quantities for 20 diverse questions (for example, “What was the highest recorded temperature in the US?”). Teams were scored based on the accuracy of their estimations. 

The selection of the tasks was based on Joseph McGrath’s model of group tasks. This ensured that we covered major aspects of collective intelligence, such as decision making, task execution, generation of innovative ideas, and negotiation. 

In the first session of the program, we randomly assigned one, or in some cases two, of the tasks to each team. We scored each team’s performance of its task. During this initial session, we also conducted an individual assessment of each team member’s mindfulness (using the “Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire”) and emotional intelligence (using the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test). 

In the final session of the mindfulness program, we repeated the process. We asked each team to perform one or two of the tasks that it had not previously performed. We then scored its performance on the new task and conducted another assessment of mindfulness and emotional intelligence. 

At the conclusion of the study, we used the arithmetic mean of the improvement of teams’ performance scores for the four tasks to determine the increase in collective intelligence. We also correlated the results of the individual assessments of mindfulness and emotional intelligence to determine the extent to which these two attributes are associated and predict collective intelligence.  

About the Authors

Christian Greiser is a managing director and senior partner in the Düsseldorf office of Boston Consulting Group. You may contact him by email at greiser.christian@bcg.com. Jan-Philipp Martini is a consultant in BCG’s Düsseldorf office, supporting clients around the world on enterprise-wide agile transformations.  You may contact him by email at martini.janphilipp@bcg.com. Liane Stephan is a co-founder and managing director of Awaris. You may contact her by email atliane.stephan@awaris.com. Chris Tamdjidi is a co-founder and managing director of Awaris and is responsible for the organization’s efforts relating to neuroscience research and technology. You may contact him by email at chris.tamdjidi@awaris.com.

3 ways to improve innovation at your company, now!

3 ways to improve innovation at your company, now!

CEOs are struggling to embed innovation as a grass-root movement in their companies.

As a people strategist in the quest of human-centered workplaces that boost innovation as a company differentiator, I found the value of highlighting the linchpin between a confluence of generations in the workplace and organizations’ success in a digital disrupted world.

The following article, by Joan Michelson (@joanmichelson) for Forbes, states that putting aside assumptions about age permits CEOs to embrace the richness of different perspectives of the workforce. Across generations, workers are looking for purpose, challenge and autonomy. Creating a workplace culture where people feel they are accepted, can do meaningful work and can thrive is a must.

http://bit.ly/3agrI48

@gapinvoid

In the next article, Diane Fanelli (@Diane_Fanelli) writes for HR Technologist that creating an environment of trust, where employees do not feel negatively stereotyped because of their age, can be the first step to building a conducive environment for a productive multigenerational workforce -a great competitive advantage for companies that embrace innovation.

http://bit.ly/3adL6yw

These 2 articles highlight 3 next action item that every CEO may take in the next 3 days:

  • Understand the demographics
  • Listen and acknowledge
  • Promote age-diversity

You already count with an innovation lab in your organization, it is only a matter of unleashing the power of collaboration and crowdsourcing, to tackle your most difficult problems that are precluding to deliver the customer experience you promised.

@gapinvoid @randyhlavac #NUMarketing

#innovation #multigenerations #collaboration #crowdsourcing #leadership #CEOs

Leadership Narrative.

Leadership Narrative.

To find your own personal leadership narrative, figure out and share what great leadership means to you.Great leaders build amazing communities. They do so in a variety of ways and over an extended period of time. One of the most effective tools to accomplish that is to shape and articulate powerful narratives of what’s possible. Effective leaders share stories about what great leadership looks and feels like when individuals come together as teams, and teams come together as communities, with a unifying sense of purpose and collective ambition. This insight has emerged from both survey data and dozens of C-suite-level interviews as part of a major global study, Future of Leadership in the Digital Economy, that MIT Sloan Management Review is conducting with Cognizant. In this new world of work, where being connected and resilient are of paramount importance, 82% of our global survey respondents and virtually all of those interviewed indicated that an individual in the digital world would need a certain level of digital savviness to be an effective leader. Yet, when asked what skill or behavior was the most important to leadership effectiveness, the answer was being able to articulate a clear sense of purpose, vision, and strategy. What at first seems old is new again: Clarity of communication in a hyper-speed world is a key difference maker in the eyes of current managers and leaders from around the world.To gain a better feeling of the texture that forms the fabric of this insight, consider this comment from Susan Sobbott, former president of American Express Global Commercial Services: “In the digital economy, physical presence can’t be mandatory to be an effective leader. You have to be able to lead people from many different cultures, in many different locations, and often with imperfect information because things are moving so fast,” she says. Her simple and elegant solution to this decades-old challenge reflects the power of a clear leadership narrative. “You have to be able to see a story emerging and to articulate that story in a way that has meaning and inspiration for a wide range of people. You have to convey your passion and beliefs through a powerful narrative.”

Why Finding Your Leadership Narrative Is Important

We analyzed our survey responses from more than 120 countries and conducted a sentiment analysis and heat-mapping exercise to identify the most important leadership behaviors in this new economy. The traits that emerged were authenticity, transparency, trust, inspiration, the ability to connect and invest in others, analytical capability, curiosity, and courage, among others. Few would argue that these behaviors and attributes are necessary, yet by themselves, standing independently, without the context needed to create meaning or catalyze change, they run the risk of being considered buzzwords. Stories help prevent that from happening, and that’s where the power of creating your leadership narrative comes into play. Developing a powerful narrative demands that you, the leader, take a stand on what you believe in, what you are about, and what impact you hope to create as you set out to form teams and build communities. The leader behaviors and attributes listed earlier become your means of communicating to others who you are, as well as your expectations for others concerning how you will lead together in your organization. It’s about finding and sharing your voice.In a recent interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, late-night comedian Stephen Colbert talked about his search to “find his show.” For months his show struggled in the ratings, not because it lacked comedic appeal or impact, but because it had no thesis or arc that held it together. Once he and his writing team took a stand on what they believed in and followed through on those beliefs transparently, authentically, and courageously, Colbert believes they found their show, and since then he has commanded the No. 1 slot in the ratings. To find your personal leadership narrative, you need to figure out what great leadership means to you. David Schmittlein, dean of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, made a similar point while being interviewed for this study. “A great leader must be willing and able to display the courage it sometimes takes to stand by well-founded convictions — to take a stand on a decision that may be unpopular,” Schmittlein states. “It is about finding your narrative — what you believe in — and not being a willow in the wind. A well-thought-out leadership narrative helps create meaning and motivation for others.”

Getting Started: Finding Your Leadership Narrative

I spend a good deal of my time coaching senior executives to shape and tell their leadership stories in leader-led development initiatives around the world. When crafted well, and integrated with important conceptual content, engaging senior leaders to share their perspectives can be a powerful learning experience. Years ago, I was coaching a vice-chairman of a large global financial services company to share his story on what it meant to be a great leader in a changing world. He looked at me, almost with a sense of embarrassment, and said, “I’ve been in leadership roles for 35 years, and this is the first time I have ever been asked to share what I actually believe to be the essential ingredients of great leadership.” My response: “Well then, let’s get started!”Follow these simple steps to find your leadership narrative:

  1. No matter how busy you are, how many deadlines you are facing, or how many people are vying for your time, give yourself permission to reflect on what being a great leader means to you. Don’t think about it for five minutes and consider the job done. Take a day or chunks of several days away from the office to seriously reflect on this. After you do that, write those thoughts down as a draft narrative. It might start out as a series of bullet points, and that’s completely fine to get you started. But make sure it begins to take shape as a story.
  2. Share your draft narrative with one person, or several people, you trust. By trust, I mean that you trust that they will be honest with you concerning how authentic your narrative feels. Does the narrative describe you? Have they seen you behave this way over time? Have they witnessed you trying to cultivate those behaviors in others? You are trying to discover whether you are an authentic role model for your own narrative.
  3. When your narrative is refined enough, try it out. Tell your story transparently and with authenticity. Your leadership narrative should not be seen as a war story, simply recounting something you did. Work on it so that others can learn from it. At the right time and with the right people, seek feedback on the impact your narrative is having and ask how your story can have greater impact.

How we work is changing, but why we work and what we hope to achieve through our work remain largely the same. We want to be part of something larger, something special, something that helps make this world we live in a better place. Your leadership narrative can motivate others in important ways. Finding your narrative — one that expresses authentically, transparently, and courageously what you believe in as a leader, what you are about, and indeed what you are willing to fight for — will let you begin to unite individuals into teams, and teams into amazing communities.

About the Author

LDouglas A. Ready is a senior lecturer in organizational effectiveness at the MIT Sloan School of Management, founder and CEO of the International Consortium for Executive Development Research, and MIT SMR guest editor. He tweets @doug_ready.

Meditation fueling Leadership.

Meditation fueling Leadership.

By Steven Cohen

As more people meditate regularly, we are seeing the benefits more clearly. Can meditation make you more effective at work? Absolutely.

Core leadership traits such as self-awareness, focus, creativity, listening, relationship development, influence, grit and having a growth mindset can be developed through meditation, thus improving professional performance. These fundamental leadership traits can be grouped into four foundational pillars: Awareness, Connection, Perspective, and Potential. Each pillar can be built and reinforced through regular meditation practice.

Building Awareness 

At its most basic level, the practice of meditation that includes a focus on your breath, takes your mind out of its regular thinking pattern, thus giving you the opportunity to observe what fills the void, both internally and externally. You learn during meditation to observe thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in the present moment and without judgment.  What you find is that instead of the same day-to-day chatter in your mind, you begin to observe different, more important, thoughts and feelings.

A student in one of my meditation classes noted that he had been working on an engineering project for a month and was struggling with several obstacles that prevented success.  One day during meditation, a different way of overcoming a key obstacle just floated through his mind. Within 48 hours, the engineering project was complete.

When you’re living your life in a state of greater awareness, you are able to see situations more clearly as they arise (and not just during your meditation practice).  You may notice changes or trends in the marketplace that significantly impact your business, customer dissatisfaction before customers stop ordering, the morale of a valued employee before he or she departs without warning, or how fear or self-doubt influences your behavior.   

Making Connections

During meditation, you listen. Effective leaders are able to listen at least as much as they talk and are able to communicate with others more effectively. Too often, the baggage we bring to an interaction from our past experiences gets in the way of communicating clearly and openly. Emotional mindfulness and lovingkindness meditation can help you understand how past experiences cloud your lens, impacting your response to new situations.  We learn during meditation to pause and then thoughtfully respond instead of just reacting to situations.  

Effective interactions with others build connections.  In business, connection is everything. It is how customers and employees are satisfied, how sales are made and how brands are built. Once the lens is clear, it is easier to be present to others and listen with greater attention. We can see more easily what motivates people and notice that people have different communication styles.  Being aware of those differences can assist you in more successfully motivating others and being a more effective team member and leader.

Meditation can also assist you in determining with whom to be in a relationship. There are always certain people you “click” with, and being more aware of these relationships can be of great value both personally and professionally.  Try setting an intention during meditation by asking between each breath, “With whom should I connect?” and just observe what arises. You may find that a key customer, a mentor or friend who has drifted away comes into your consciousness.  You may have an urge to call your mother or father. Follow this realization and see how your inner wisdom guides you.

Maintaining Perspective

Stress has become such a roadblock for many of us, impacting our actions, reactions, health, and well-being. A meditation practice provides a break from the events that trigger our stress and teaches us to step back and witness with greater perspective so we experience fewer stress triggers. Meditation provides a moment of calm within the chaos so that whatever is most important (your wisdom within) can rise to the surface.  By stepping back and pausing, you may become more aware of your thoughts and actions within the context of a greater purpose. 

A daily meditation practice, while very valuable, may not be enough to make it through the day. You may want to add to your meditation toolbox micro-practices that you practice during meditation but can use any time you need it.  It can be as simple as taking three deep breaths when you notice you are out of balance or a mantra meditation. Mantra meditation is focusing on a word, phrase or saying that returns you to the state of balance and equanimity through its vibration in your body. Your mantra should be meaningful to you and bring you back into perspective by just repeating it a few times in your mind during any situation.

Every day, we are deluged by information, social media and demands for our time and attention. Effectiveness in business is based in large part on how we process and utilize information and choose to spend our valuable time. Daily meditation, along with micro-practices throughout the day, allows the most important information to rise into your consciousness, helping you to rebalance your perspective, improve your decision-making and increase your positive influence within your organizations, at home, and in your community.

Achieving Potential

Meditation puts you in touch with your true authentic self. This “self” acts as a witness during meditation. With practice, your authentic self can recognize opportunities available to you that are often your most promising opportunities for growth but were previously lost within the noise created by your mind. Daily meditation practice reinforces hard-to-describe, intangible “grit” qualities that seem to characterize true leaders: passion, effort, perseverance, and resiliency. Sitting regularly in meditation is hard to do. You must want to do it. You must actually do it.  You must keep doing it when you don’t want to. You must return to doing it when you have stopped. You must demonstrate grit. As you utilize your grit trait to pursue your vision, you will encounter areas in yourself and your organization that requires change.  

One of my favorite intention meditations was inspired by Robert K. Cooper’s book The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential For Leadership and Life.  Each Sunday night, I would ask myself: “What is my greatest opportunity this week?  What is stopping me?” Inevitably, making sure you keep these answers in your awareness during the week and prioritizing them when the other moment-to-moment demands arise, can be a key to success.

Willingness to change and proceed with a growth mindset allows you to add more value to others; the organizations in which you are active become more effective. The world becomes a better place. That is your potential.

Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson address the science behind meditation’s impact in their book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body. “Beyond the pleasant states meditation can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting traits that can result. An altered trait—a new characteristic that arises from a meditation practice — endures apart from the meditation itself. Altered traits shape how we behave in our daily lives, not just during or immediately after we meditate.”

Learning to lead from within is the process of integrating your meditation practice with your life. Where your mind goes during mediation, your actions can follow. You can learn to be more aware, recognize opportunities to build relationships, see things from a larger context and envision new opportunities, all by developing your leadership traits through meditation. Just as you can’t control your thoughts or the sensations in your body during meditation, you can’t control all of the situations you will face as you live your life. However, you can refine your response to situations and open yourself up to personal and professional growth. Ultimately, your life is your practice.  

Leaders fit for the Future.

Leaders fit for the Future.

Lee Waller, Viki Culpin, Sona Sharratt, Paula Bradbury

The path from a successful functional role to organizational leadership is well trodden and well known. In recent years though, navigating this path has begun to require an increasingly sophisticated set of skills, as the environment in which leaders lead has become significantly more complex and fluid. With the coming era of AI – when interaction between humans and machines will be critical, the skillsets leaders require will become more sophisticated still.

The generation of leaders whose skills and outlook were honed in the pre-digital, pre-globalization age, were operating in a relatively stable environment. Computer power and the internet had made life easier, but technology had not yet brought the market and societal disruptions heralded by the tech pioneers of the early 2000s and heightened during the past decade.  

Our recent research, culminating in our report Learning to Lead in the 21st Centuryfocuses on the capabilities and skills, and the forward-looking mindset, that today’s leaders need to succeed in a world characterized by rapid technological advance, globalization, changes in societal attitudes, and market disruption, not to mention economic and political volatility. It also considers the most effective means of developing those skills – which we will touch upon here.

What Today’s Leaders Wish They’d Known

528 executives, of diverse ages and experience were asked what cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural skills they wished they had gained ten years previously, that would have most increased their effectiveness as leaders now.

In order of prevalence, these were the top five capabilities perceived as important:

Relational SkillsLeading OthersEmotional IntelligenceTechnical SkillsConfidence

Participants also described critical incidents and events that had taught them valuable lessons. These were the top five mentioned:

ExperienceFailurePersonal DevelopmentTechnologyMajor Life Events

Participants also divulged that they didn’t know enough about, or didn’t possess enough of, the following:

Technical KnowledgeTraining & EducationUnderstanding of the OrganizationLeadership      SkillsCommunication &  Negotiation

These were the top five ways participants believed they might be able to develop their skills for the future:

Learning by DoingLearning through PeopleFormal LearningExtra-Curricular LearningA Growth Mindset

These were the five things participants thought most likely to derail career progression:

Lack of Knowledge & ExpertiseLow Emotional IntelligenceLack of ConfidenceNot Adapting to New Technology Poor   Communication   Skills

The Leadership Skills Needed Today

The participants point to a number of capabilities, essential for those now learning to lead, which they wish they had acquired ten years ago. Above all else they highlight the need for strong relational skills and the ability to communicate effectively in order to lead others. Acquisition of knowledge and expertise as well the development of greater emotional intelligence and confidence were key factors.

The ability to understand and adapt to new technology was a priority stressed by many. The importance of learning from failure and the value of feedback were also highlighted, both being seen as confidence-boosting (and confidence being something a great many participants wish they had had more of, earlier in their careers).

To operate effectively in a volatile, fast changing environment, two other key capabilities were suggested by the research. First, the need to have a ‘growth mindset’ – one that enjoys a challenge, seeks new opportunities and constantly seeks to learn. And secondly, the importance of ‘learning agility’ – which can be defined as curiosity and the ability to adapt well to change and new ideas. Both these capabilities, which rely heavily on learning from experience and from the evolving environment, are capabilities which embrace and welcome innovation and change, and are thus clearly essential for leadership success in the 21st Century.

Acquiring Skills and Learning to Lead

In our research we found that the development being offered needs to be tailored, both in terms of seniority and gender. Younger leaders and less senior leaders emphasised a need or preference for formal development, whereas older or more senior leaders emphasised on-the-job learning.

The 70:20:10 principle – the idea that development comes 70% from on-the-job experiences; 20% from feedback from colleagues and the boss; and 10% from formal training – may need rethinking. In today’s fast paced environment, where keeping up-to-speed with the latest knowledge, technologies, and expertise are key, formal development may have a greater role to play. For the younger participants, formal development came out as the top theme, with first line and middle managers reporting education and training as the most valuable factor supporting their career success.

L&D professionals should consider offering more formal development opportunities directed towards junior and middle level roles within organizations. Whereas to develop older and more senior leaders, emphasis should be placed on identifying experiential, on-the-job learning opportunities and coaching.

Gender differences were also present here, in terms of the skills participants considered important to future success. Perhaps counter-intuitively, female participants were more concerned about a lack of emotional intelligence while male leaders were most concerned about a lack of knowledge and expertise.

Conclusions

A number of lessons can be drawn from our research: the importance of relational skills to performance throughout a leadership career; the need for a growth mindset and learning agility; and the ever-present need to up-date knowledge, and adapt to new technology; the importance of experiential learning; and the need for formal development – perhaps more than is generally given.

Learning these lessons successfully relies of course on individual application – with the support of L&D professionals tailoring learning. Paramount even to that though, is organizational culture. An organization able to address these issues is one that encourages the development of agile learning and growth mindsets by developing a culture that fosters trust, respect and psychological safety, supports risk taking and entrepreneurial behavior, and emphasizes continuous learning.