Building tomorrow’s leaders today

By David Brown
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/04/2002

Leadership development has become a front-burner issue for executive management, and therefore a top priority for HR.

A large part of the corporate leadership contingent is rapidly approaching retirement. And with a dearth of qualified people to replace them, organizations are much more interested in providing a good work environment to attract and retain the best talent. One of the most important factors in creating this environment is good leadership.

As the business world has changed in recent years, so too has the leadership development needs of modern organizations, says Don McQuaig. As president of MICA, a consulting and training provider specializing in leadership development, he has talked to many organizations about their leadership needs.

“In the old world — a more stable world — we sent people away for three or five days or even three to five weeks,” he says. They learned theories and reviewed case studies. That was useful but it was seldom connected to what they were doing back on the job.

“No one wants to go work on a case when they have an inbox of cases they can’t respond to already,” McQuaig says. Many organizations are tired of that old routine of sending people away for training and then they come back and do the same things they’ve done in the past.

There is instead a growing demand for some variation of learn-as-you-do and executive coaching, says McQuaig. The learning is very focused and integrated with the actual work the aspiring leader does on the job.

And while improvements to the delivery of leadership learning is good news, the bad news is the demands being placed upon leaders are also multiplying and becoming more complex.

“I think we are making progress, but I think the game we are playing is much more intense,” says McQuaig. “The nature of leadership has changed.”

In the knowledge economy, work is getting more complicated and things have to be done in a compressed time period.

There is more demand for training to help leaders become better strategic thinkers, encourage risk-taking, work across boundaries and build coalitions. They also need to know how to make decisions “in a fishbowl” where transparency and public scrutiny are becoming more intense, he says.

There used to be some general models of leadership that were fairly universal, but today, good leadership is more contextual, he says.

Leadership has to be tailored to the needs of the organization helping employees meet the organization’s needs and fulfill its mission and values.

Developing leaders is less about giving people information and more about training them to discover, quickly, the strategies that work best in specific situations, he says.

“Once upon a time, you could run an organization with a few smart people at the top, that sure isn’t the truth today,” he says.

“The real leadership heroes are the ones who can bring out the greatness of others.”

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