As the Indian juggernaut rolls on at around 8% growth rates, the scarcity of leadership talent at the top echelons of Indian companies is becoming more acute. Most GenNext leaders are products of an archaic business education system—strong in quantitative abilities and theory, but limited in pragmatic approach. By the time they reach the upper rungs of their companies, very few are able to make the transition from being stellar individual contributors to becoming effective leaders, the kind who can communicate a vision, inspire a multi-location team, build a culture of high performance and embrace innovation.
How will India’s GenNext leaders step up to the challenge of leadership? Studies in leadership training have shown that traditional classroom sessions are increasingly being displaced by blended approaches, such as action-learning projects, business simulations, experiential learning, feedback instruments and coaching, in helping leaders transform themselves. Leadership institutes such as the Insead Global Leadership Centre (IGLC) and Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) have been at the forefront of developing global leaders through the use of such initiatives, leveraging their extensive global research. I shall talk about two approaches to leadership development that, in my experience of working with senior executives, hold the greatest promise in developing leadership traits.
New approach: Training today has to be hands-on and experiential.
360-degree feedback and group coaching
Studies at Insead have shown that 70% of executives believe that they are in the top 25% of their peer group globally in terms of performance. No surprise then that there is a serious gap between what leaders say they do and what they really do. Carefully designed feedback instruments can provide an introspective journey and elicit explicit as well as implicit behaviour changes, addressing the gap.
There are many feedback instruments which pay attention to evident behaviour but offer no insights on the forces driving such behaviour. A clinically oriented feedback process that includes carefully designed 360-degree feedback, presentation, discussion of results through a focused group and resolution through follow-up, helps give such insights and has proven to be effective in leadership coaching.
However, the feedback process is only effective if participants are self-aware, engage in dialogue, accept criticism and take constructive action. Group coaching enables the participants to do so. According to Prof. Manfred Kets de Vries of the IGLC, “Leadership group coaching establishes a foundation of trust, makes for constructive conflict resolution, leads to greater commitment, and contributes to accountability—all factors that translate into better results for organizations.”
Action learning for organizational impact
How can companies accelerate leadership development? How can they ensure that what is gained in training initiatives is not lost in practice? Learning through a project-based approach helps companies to scope their respective leadership challenges through projects and engage the participants with efficient decision-making and on-the-job implementation. It is especially relevant for fast-tracked leaders. The participants take up projects that are carefully scoped and sponsored by their C-level team.
Let’s consider Tuck Business School’s Global Leadership 2030 programme, directed by Prof. Vijay Govindarajan, rated by BusinessWeek as one of the Top 10 professors in executive education. At the heart of the learning experience of this programme are collaborative, hands-on, action learning projects. It requires participants to develop innovative approaches to their own global challenges, through cross-functional, cross-business and cross-border collaboration. It ensures a practical grounding in leadership development as well as applying the insights learnt.
These kind of approaches provide real impact for an organization—one reaching well beyond the learning in the programme. As India Inc. marches forward, it needs to invest in such pragmatic Leadership Development initiatives, to effectively nurture GenNext leaders.
Chaitanya Kalipatnapu is the director of Eruditus, a firm that specializes in executive education.
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