Wanted: agile business leaders

Written by
Changeboard Team

30 Sep 2011

30 Sep 2011 • by Changeboard Team

A new era of leadership

There is no doubt that the economic uncertainty of the past few years has significantly impacted UK business models. As businesses and employees alike come under increasing strain, a new model of leadership has been born.

Traditional leadership models judge potential leaders based on their knowledge and skills from within a particular company. But one company’s top leader can just as easily be another’s failure. Each business has its own personality and no business culture or hierarchy will be the same, requiring individual approaches to leadership. Simply taking one leader and placing them in a new company does not mean they will have the same success.

It is important then to evaluate and select leaders with a more holistic approach which combines cultural and socio-economic contexts, something which the constricted focus of evaluation based solely on individual characteristics ignores. 

There has been recognition of the changing leadership qualities within the HR industry in recent months. The latest CIPD Global Leadership forecast identified the top three leadership skills needed in the UK as driving and managing change (69%), making difficult decisions (34%) and executing organisational strategy (32%). When you compare this to 2008 where growth, customer service improvements and developing business strategy were the key leadership requirements, the changing needs become more apparent.

As this need for a more holistic approach has gained pace, cultural fit has grown to be a key assessment value, with learning agility becoming one of the most important competencies for the next decade.

Assessing candidates' cultural fit

Before you can begin to assess a candidate’s cultural fit or define the qualities for job specifications, you need to clarify what the current business culture is and where you want to be. In turbulent times such as these, a regular review of your culture and business objectives is crucial.

There are several tools on the market which allow you to assess internal culture, such as cultural alignment indicators. Using these tools it is possible to identify the particular cultural gaps in the organisation which need to be filled to move the organisation into the desired positioning.

Once the gaps have been identified, the context a leader must work in can be defined, including the impacts of external conditions, the business strategy and the internal culture. This can then feed into the job specification and candidate assessment.

How to assess leadership

Assessing the more qualitative merits of a leader isn’t an exact science, but it is possible. At A&DC we use a model of five key attributes (LIVED) to asses a candidate’s cultural fit:

  • Learning agility – applying experience to new situations
  • Intelligence – academic or technical capabilities
  • Values – or a persons’ characteristics
  • Emotion – the ability to manage emotions and those of others
  • Drive – inspiring action

While each of these attributes have their own level of importance, it is the learning agility aspect which integrates and governs the way the five core elements work. A person’s learning agility can have an impact on and change each of the values in our model, making it the most valuable quality in a business to evaluate.
As each of these LIVED components are so different, we use a variety of assessment methods to ensure a more comprehensive and robust process. For example, ability testing is great for the ‘Intelligence’ component, but not necessarily for the’ Learning Agility’ component, where Deep Dive Interview tools or 360°. Feedback are more appropriate.

Spotting potential

In any recruitment process you always hope there will be that one stand-out candidate with all the qualities you desire, but in reality the likelihood of finding such a person is slim. Instead, training is considered for those candidates with the most potential to improve any weaker skills.

It is important to mention then, when choosing a leader, that it is almost impossible to teach learning agility – you’re either simply born with it, or learn through your own experiences. Other areas though, such as Drive and Intelligence, are much easier to progress through training and development programmes.

Securing leaders of the future

It is the leadership qualities of staff which will set an organisation apart from the competition, and given the current high levels of economic uncertainty, the debate on the concept of learning agility is likely to continue.

As the pressure on businesses continues, choosing the right leaders for the job is now more crucial than ever.