Leadership Development: Updating The Chapters…

Leadership Development: Updating The Chapters…

Today, the focus is to groom leaders with an approach that makes them the corporate equivalent of the 'Terminator', the hybrid man-machine brought alive by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 'Terminator' movie series.

In the year 1981, at just 10 years of age, a boy in Pretoria, South Africa, was introduced to the Commodore VIC-20 Personal Computer. Fascinated by the machine, he proceeded to learn coding and in only two years, earned his first revenue check of $500, selling a game named Blastar to Spectravideo. He went on to study and work in Canada and the United States, building his knowledge and skills, one academic qualification at a time.


Over the last decade, the same boy (now man, of course!) has become the poster boy of innovation, gumption and bravado. At the end of the much derided 2020, he has placed himself at the No. 2 spot on the ‘Forbes Richest List’.


If you have not yet guessed who I am referring to – it is none other than Elon Musk, famous for his 18-hour workdays as much as for launching rocket ships. All this information is detailed out in his biography, penned by Ashlee Vance, which has inspired millions, including me.


Yes, biographies of accomplished achievers and leaders have always been a very favoured purchase category in bookstores catalogued under the ‘Management Books’ inventory.


Many amongst us have grown up reading biographies of leaders as varied as Mahatma Gandhi, Lee Iacocca and Jack Ma. Many would have also read and underlined passages from management tomes like ‘Good To Great’, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, ‘In Search of Excellence’ and the like. It seems that learning from the granular experiences of hallowed business leaders and percipience of thought leaders is a much coveted aspiration for many amongst us.


For those in the corporate world, it is ingrained from an early stage in their growth, to pick up guidance and learnings from those that have charted the path before them and planted their stakes firmly in the ground. In fact, in B-schools across the globe, ‘recommended book’ lists are handed out by the faculty to help students connect some of the theory taught in the classroom to the real-life applications that the latter are supposed to effect later in their professional lives.


Alas, if only reading from books could suffice our requirements to grow our skills as managers into leaders! Such an expectation is no different than assuming that after watching the dashing Tom Cruise scale up the glistening glass façade of the Burj Khalifa in the movie, ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’, one could do the same. Needless to say, attempting to replicate an observation or learning without the guiding hand of a mentor or trainer, would be a challenge partaken at one’s own peril. In the competitive world we live in, it could preclude corporate death.



Thankfully, progressive and enlightened organisations realise this. And it is for this precise reason that most of them have a well-directed ‘Leadership Development Team’ embedded within. Ranging from coaching programmes to align leadership thought to the corporate strategy to driving an innovation mindset, this team carries a broad charter to fulfil its objective of raising the leadership potential of its management. It aims to create a leadership pipeline that can not only support, but also define, the organisation’s future growth.


The pandemic that has engulfed us for almost an entire year now has instigated change across many business dimensions. Leadership development or training is also one such impacted area. For teams owning the leadership development agenda, it is therefore, a time of intense reinvention.


Incorporating changes in the content and delivery of its programmes, is not quite different from changing the tyre of a car which (hold your breath!) is in motion. After all, the current times, do not allow the luxury of a ‘trial-and-error’ approach. Rapid transformation and immediate results are expected across the board. To effect the same, the leadership training team must focus on the below areas:




More now than ever, we need to absorb the fact that leadership development strategies will need to change depending upon each employee’s individual position and role in the corporate pyramid.


Interventions required are quite different for various groups – individuals beginning the leadership journey, those that desire to take their already robust experience to the next level, and finally, those that already occupy senior positions that need to drive, and possibly reinvent, the organisation’s direction.


Similarly, developmental goals are also closely inter-twined with the leader’s role, both, current and aspirational. With shorter tenures, global deployments and parttime/contract employment models coming into the play, stratification of this sort will need further thought in order to ensure that the measures adopted bring in the desired results over time.


Predictive Analytics


The current times necessitate the adoption of an analytical approach to help define and refine the leadership development approach. As per a research conducted by Development Dimensions International (DDI) in 2016, less ‘Individual Talent Health’ – a metric than aids tremendously towards exercises such as succession planning, which is a critical output of any leadership development programme.


Digital Dependence


Clearly, we are looking at hybrid workplaces in 2021 and beyond.


While dependence on digital platforms or technology has been discussed and observed in parts, the time is now ripe for a deeper adoption. To be fair, in some cases, the old school ‘classroom approach’ is difficult to replicate, given the intense advantage that peer learning provides. However, as things stand, organisational leaders realise that standing by the side-lines, and waiting for the situation to ‘normalise’ so that classrooms can be occupied is not an option that even merits consideration.


Therefore, in the current climate, one is seeing a higher usage of video conferencing to bridge this gap, to whatever extent possible. Innovative learning proponents are also trying out AR/ VR (Augmented Reality/ Virtual Reality) technologies, that in many ways, represent the new frontier of man-machine interaction.


Specialist Delivery


The current era is one of ‘mass customisation’ – a marketing and manufacturing technique that combines the flexibility and personalisation of custom-made products with the low unit costs associated with mass production. This concept is not alien to the world of leadership too. This is where specialist delivery of coaching or mentoring comes in.


One of the mechanisms in this area is related to the transmission of leadership lessons from the experiences of great leaders that we noted in the initial portion of this article. Bengaluru-based K Rajeev Narayan is the Founder & CEO of The Leadership Elements (TLE India), India’s only book based leadership consulting house. In a novel (pun, fully intended) approach, his organisation becomes the medium that helps distil the infinite wisdom from management books including biographies, to enable upcoming leaders to hone their craft. In his words, “Books have always been the source of knowledge and learning across generations. The same needs to be demystified for leaders across organisations and communities.” Such interventions allow for a fully accurate leadership development approach to be executed, that creates customised tracks to fuel high performance.


Go Ahead! Update your Leadership Development Chapters


 Today, the focus is to groom leaders with an approach that makes them the corporate equivalent of the ‘Terminator’, the hybrid man-machine brought alive by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the ‘Terminator movie series.


A leader needs to be someone who can step into the battle and vanquish the competition. And that too, not just once, but many times over. The only way to create such an invincible avatar of your leaders would be to combine the developmental leadership theories of the past and integrate the above-mentioned focus areas. Done so with strategic intent and sound execution, there is a high likelihood that your leadership development efforts will bear fruit that will make your organisation sustainable, even in the onslaught of increased volatility in the global environment.


Clearly, the chapters in the leadership journey as far as ‘Leadership Development’ is concerned, need to be updated along these lines, if not re-written altogether!




Vikas Dua is an accomplished HR and recruitment professional, a TEDx speaker, and a Vlogger and Blogger on HR practices. With over 15 years of high-quality experience in the field of IT and ITES, he has worked with both start-ups and large corporations like Wipro and Concentrix. Currently, he is Chief HR Mentor at Attayn, an HR-tech platform focused on democratising knowledge in the academic space. He is also an Advisor to the BRICS Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Young Leaders Program.


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