Finding an Authentic Leadership Voice

Finding an Authentic Leadership Voice

Posted by Tom Morrison on August 7, 2013

In Deloitte’s recent survey of 1,300 business and HR leaders in 59 countries, 61 percent of respondents around the world (64 percent in the U.S.) consider the need to improve leadership development to be a top, highly relevant trend today. That finding certainly jibes with what we hear from clients, and from my experiences recently at a well-known leadership conference. There I interacted with a broad range of executives from all parts of their organizations, with the consensus that gaps in the leadership pipeline are a pressing concern and that the leadership development and mobility programs many have been cultivating over the last 20 years or so aren’t getting the job done.

These programs were designed to prepare global leaders who could step into challenging roles throughout the organization. The trouble, though, is that leadership styles and business practices from one region of the world don’t always resonate in other geographies. Companies are finding that leaders from the West deployed in Asia, and vice versa, aren’t necessarily bringing with them the “authentic voice” that gives them the permission and credibility to be effective in their new geography. Coupled with this is the fact that many leaders, whether expat or in-country, are not receiving adequate leadership development.

Many organizations have not adjusted their leadership programs over time to take into account the capabilities and sensibilities required of the 21st century leader. So not only are companies not putting people in places where they can succeed, but they’re also not giving them the tools to succeed.

As a case in point, we encountered this problem at a large, well-known multinational oil and gas company. As it searched for the root cause of why it was having trouble developing leaders in developing markets, the company found that it was choosing people based on personality, skills, and leadership traits that resonated more in established markets. Time and again, these candidates failed. The company found that by adjusting its expectations of performance and the parameters of its leadership pipeline programs, for example selecting people from marketing or sales backgrounds that had broader views of the business, it was able to greatly improve leaders’ effectiveness.

Another issue we see is that companies are not developing people early enough in their careers. Many have programs that focus on the senior-most tier of leadership, perhaps the top 200 or so people. Now there is starting to be a view in the market that leadership development and learning needs to be targeted to frontline managers to start building the pipeline sooner. The new thinking is that leadership is everybody, and leadership programs should be everywhere. This is particularly important as the workplace becomes more virtual, and people have more opportunities to interact and network at earlier stages in their careers.

At Deloitte, for instance, we are able to leverage our access to a global network of member firms. We have relatively junior people who are actively managing people in other parts of their country and the world, both in person and virtually. Just as we’ve put Deloitte University in place to help develop our people’s leadership skills at every stage of their careers, other companies could benefit from thinking about leadership not only at the top levels, but also throughout the organization.

The need for improved global leadership development is just one of the lessons discussed in Deloitte’s Business Trend 2013 report, Emerging Market Talent Strategies: Creating an effective global talent model. The report also gives insight into the balancing act companies face between adapting talent strategies and HR programs to the local market and diluting the global talent brand that attracts good people in the first place. These issues of leadership and talent will likely grow more intense as the centers of gravity for the global economy continue to shift away from the West—putting all of us charged with developing and preserving our organization’s human capital on notice. The world of work is changing, and so should the way we equip people to lead it.

Tom Morrison Tom Morrison, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, is the national service line leader of Total Rewards in the Human Capital practice. He has more than 20 years of consulting experience in human resources, talent, and employee benefits.

One thought on “Finding an Authentic Leadership Voice

  1. Great article, Tom! I think one of the big takeaways here is that we can position ourselves to better advise our clients by thinking more innovatively and globally about leadership development strategy and programs.

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