Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Building the next line of leadership

Focus on how to, not just what to do
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No nor its in the right minds can deny the imperative. It is no different for when it comes to change. The debate is rarely about 'why' but always about 'why now.' Whether it is about the next line of leadership or about going digital, urgency does not always stare you in the face but it could be too late when it does. And with both, the mindset trap of 'why now' looms large as it is easier said than done to shift attention from the current to building for the future.

Perhaps it is just how I think, but the debate about 'why' can easily become rhetoric. What I find even more distracting is perfecting the what-to-do list and defining the destination or future state; without acknowledging and planning for inherent uncertainty. Digital fits this stereotype, like the management literature on the topic of leadership development. When we hear about culture eating strategy for lunch, strategy is about the 'why' and 'what' - while culture is integral to the thinking behind 'how-to.'

The first thing I tell customers when we talk about digital is to separate operational improvements and IT modernisation from the fundamental changes to go digital. As different as they are in objective and approach, they also require different competencies and partners to do it right. In the same vein, the first principle to build the next line of leadership is to not mix or confuse it with organisation structures and management responsibilities of today. Don't mix leadership in the future with management in the present. Obvious as it seems, this clarity is not easy to realise in practice and can be a reason to fall into the 'why now' trap.

Established companies don't have the luxury of a or a digitally native business to build from a clean slate. Size combined with longevity or legacy are often seen as a liability in the context of change. Make them the foundation to scale, speed, and differentiate - whether it is going digital or building the next line of leadership. Established companies should take advantage of their diversity, even as we all strive to consciously enhance it, to build the next line of leadership.

With digital transformation, I tell customers to start from the middle. Speed matters with digital - going deep to integrate with current or legacy IT can take forever while staying at the surface is a facade at best. Starting from the middle, in principle, is a way to bring speed to new digital experiences that also tap into the assets or data of the legacy. Without going into the technology how-to, the idea of starting from the middle is to build an abstraction layer without any heavy lifting and shifting of the core. Building the next line of leadership without disrupting or being constrained by the current can use the same thinking. Start from the middle, with diversity as a conscious objective, to abstract and identify individual skills and track records.

The third how-to principle is building for constant change. In the case of digital, I tell customers to commit to the principles of agile and think of it as a journey. Build digital experiences like a software product and stay abreast or ahead of customer and market dynamics.

Change in the context of leadership development plans takes many forms. As a technologist, I see leadership development like an open source movement. That also makes me proud of former Persistent staffers and leaders and their innovative start-ups. We have also gained from leaders who were identified and groomed as part of the iconic global and Indian leadership programmes such as GE, Motorola, and Infosys and who are today part of that next line of leadership for Persistent. The changes in market conditions especially the entry of digital natives as consumers, customers, and employees, require the next line of leadership to have a new dimension of diversity in the form of digital mindset.

To sum up, leadership development in an organisation must be a platform and an ecosystem for individuals to develop themselves as leaders. And like with digital, the emphasis should be on creating experiences that make a leader and not about the role or function.

By Anand Deshpande, CEO & founder, Persistent Systems

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