Seven steps to succeed in getting talent into leadership quicker

4 minute read

Millennials’ ambitions and technology disruption make accelerated leadership development a top priority for organisations. But this comes with pitfalls. Focusing on these seven areas will increase your chances of success

Ines Wichert


In a world that is characterised by technology disruption and increased complexity, effective leaders must have a broad range of capabilities. Being good at a few things is no longer enough to survive in a world where new market entrants or new technologies can turn an entire industry upside down in less than a decade. Few organisations are confident, though, that they have the calibre of leader that is required to successfully lead the organisation into this increasingly unpredictable future. As a result, organisations must speed up the development of their leaders’ capabilities.

To get leaders ready for this volatile future means that high-potential talent need access to a broad range of challenges as they progress in their careers. This breadth of experience allows emerging leaders to learn to adapt their leadership style to different situations, to see problems from more than one angle and to understand that there is more than one way of doing things. Breadth of experience increases a leader’s agility and their ability to anticipate disruption.

Furthermore, as organisations are reorganising to better deal with customer demands, they are moving to agile working which requires a shift from a planned and controlled work set-up to experimentation, trial and error. Agile working replaces well-defined functional teams and central decision-making with agile teams and local decision-making that is built on trust. Agile working can only succeed with distributed leadership in place. This means that organisations now require leadership skills further down the organisational hierarchy.

And it is not only technology disruption, existing leadership gaps and the move to agile working that make the need for accelerated leadership development a top priority for organisations. There is also an important pull factor: emerging leaders themselves. Millennials’ desire for leadership development and for being challenged and moving at pace is a key driver for retaining top talent. Millennials don’t want to wait their turn but instead be heard, make an impact and keep progressing. Accelerating their development is therefore a must.

Accelerated leadership development allows organisations to get talented individuals ready for leadership responsibility in less time. To achieve this, organisations must ensure that future leaders are getting access to development opportunities that maximise their learning and breadth of experience. While accelerated leadership development provides many advantages, it also comes with pitfalls. Organisations that are considering accelerated leadership development should think about the following seven areas to increase chances of success:

1. Potential
Accelerated leadership development is an effective solution to getting an organisation ready for the challenges of technology disruption. However, accelerated development requires life on the fast lane for high-potential employees and a fair amount of risk taking on behalf of the organisation. It is therefore important to assess carefully, and re-assess periodically,  if a leader has the necessary potential to be accelerated successfully.

2. Breadth of experience
To develop well-rounded leaders fast, organisations must be clear about the types of roles and stretch assignments that are most developmental for these future leaders. Example for some of the most developmental roles include leading a change management programme, building something from scratch, or working abroad. These experiences provide valuable development opportunities for any leader, irrespective of their industry, function or the business cycle their organisation finds itself in.

3. Risk-taking
Organisations must be ready to appoint not yet fully-proven talent to more senior or significantly different roles to accelerate their learning. One example of how organisations can manage the increased risks associated with this approach is choosing developmental roles that are well-established and well-known,  so that early signs of derailment can be spotted easily and that experienced leaders who are familiar with the role can be drawn upon for support.

4. On-the-job learning
On-the-job learning is widely accepted as the most effective form of leadership development. However, it often remains an aspiration rather than a reality, as on-the-job learning can be hard to operationalise and scale. Organisations must nevertheless explore ways of how this can be achieved through examples such as stretch assignments, job rotations or shadowing.

5. Consolidation phases
While it may sound counter-intuitive to take time out or to take a step back, in the long run it is an effective acceleration strategy. Taking an additional year in an existing job or taking a short step back by taking on a less challenging role  allows an accelerated leader to consolidate all their learning from previous stretch assignments. It also reduces the likelihood of burnout and therefore indirectly helps the leader to continue progressing at speed.

6. Support systems
The highly challenging environment of accelerated development must be counterbalanced with readily available support to avoid burnout or derailment.  High-potential leaders need access to different types of support such as information, access to contacts, practical help or emotional support.

7. Reflective learning
It is not the experience itself but the learning we draw from it that leads to development. Regular reflection allows an accelerated leader to avoid making the same mistake twice, getting up to speed faster in new situations and dealing more effectively with unexpected events.

Published 20 March 2019

Being good at a few things is no longer enough to survive in a world where new market entrants or new technologies can turn an entire industry upside down in less than a decade

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