Changing Workforce Expectations, Part 3: Cyclical Leadership Models

Today, in the third part of my series on Changing Workforce Expectations, I want to discuss the evolution of new leadership models.  This follows blogs on the composition of the future workforce and flexible work environments.

We are beginning to see the first steps toward understanding that strong leadership isn’t as much about building better development programs as it is about changing the definition of leadership roles.

Here is a quick look at what’s driving the push for new leadership models and where that push is leading organizations.

A Leadership Example?

Ron Johnson, former CEO of JC Penney, took over 18 months ago amid expectations that his unique leadership style would invigorate the brand and shake up an organization that was in desperate need of a fresh start.

Unfortunately for Johnson and his supporters, the transition from leading a successful Apple retail brand to the established JC Penney brand was more difficult than expected. Just after JC Penney announced Q4 results that had same-store sales dropping a staggering 32% along with a plunge in stock prices by 50%, Johnson stepped down on April 8. Dropping same-store sales metrics affect operating budgets, purchasing plans, and workforce schedules. Combine that with a lack of trust from the financial market and you have a perfect storm toward leadership replacement.

There has been a lot of conversation about what went wrong.  Was JC Penney’s board and shareholders unrealistic about what it would take for a real turn-around? Was it a mistake to go outside the organization to look for new leadership?  Was it simply a poor hiring decision? Was it not having a strong bench strength of leaders who could provide real counsel for Johnson on engaging with JC Penney audiences, both new and existing?

This is just one of many recent examples of high-profile brands that have lost critical ground in today’s competitive market due to perceived leadership issues. JC Penney is following in the footsteps of notable organizations such as RIM and Best Buy, which chose to focus inward versus outward.

The real question may not be whether the leaders were good or bad, prepared, or given enough time, but whether the leadership models advocated for some many years were appropriate for the situations.

Cyclical Leadership Models

In Brandon Hall Group’s Business Focus ‘13 survey, we asked business leaders where they planned to invest time, resources, and funding for 2013. More than 50% of the organizations said that leadership and management strategies were one of their top priorities this year.  More than 23% of learning organizations stated their top program priorities would be leadership development or supervisory training.  For the last 10 years, organizations have continuously placed updating or implementing new leadership development programs at the top of their priority lists.

If most organizations feel that a lack of leadership is holding them back from greater revenues and gaining market share, and each year we continue to spend more on leadership development to the tune of up to $20 billion annually, then why isn’t it working?

You can point to the baby-boomer retirement cliff, or the layers of leadership lost over a two-year period due to the recession. But an alternative answer is that we need new and improved leadership models to address the real changes taking place in our political, work, and social environments.

Global Leadership Models

The World Economic Forum has created a Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership to address this issue. The WEC believes that significant demographic and societal changes, technological advances, and continuous globalization, along with resource scarcity, will define the emerging leadership models. It sees the new leadership models centering on emotional capacity (values, self-awareness, and authenticity), intellectual and cognitive development (creativity, innovation, systems thinking), and the depth of social relationships (community building, alliances, and collaboration).

Business Focused Leadership Model

Rebecca Shambaugh, founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, points out that past leadership models are rarely linked to success in today’s environment. She puts forth the need for a balanced and integrated leadership model to succeed in today’s business world.

Workforce Leadership Models

Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London Business School, recently wrote a compelling book, The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here, that outlines the need for a workforce comprised of highly specialized masters, innovative connectors, and impassioned producers. In her model, the workforce of the future become experts in their own right and need to lead the work in order to engage both them and the businesses they work within. People will begin to cycle in and out of leadership roles that meet their needs and the business needs.

Personal Leadership Models

James Scouller’s, The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Knowhow and Skill, addresses more traditional leadership models, such as situational leadership, action-centered leadership, and traits- and behavior-based leadership models. He combines the lessons from these models into a new model based on building a leadership presence. Often called the 3P model, it defines the three levels of public, private, and personal self-mastery. The focus is on building trusting relationships with followers and implementing circumstantial behaviors.

A couple of factors all these variations on leadership models have in common:

  • There is a major shift taking place in our world that requires us to break the mold, and create something new.
  • The workforce and consumer markets will have an impact on future leaders’ success – either through direct or indirect social influence.
  • Successful leadership models of the future will probably include a focus on trust, diversity, and community building.
  • Modern workforces are looking for leadership models that are cyclical and flexible — versus hierarchical and structured – allowing people to share their unique leadership capabilities when they are needed most.

Brandon Hall Group plans to continue to research this changing space – and would love to hear how your organizations are changing their approach to leadership development.  Are you building cyclical leadership models, co-opt leadership models, or contextualized leadership approaches?  Are you breaking the old patterns and finding something new inside the chaos? I hope you’ll share your story.

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Stacey Harris



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Stacey Harris