Nurture Your Future Leaders, Ahead Of Schedule

Andrew Weaver
February 3, 2024

“There is so much fascination with technology innovation, but so much fear when it comes to management innovation. There are however many companies openly admitting that they have no competitive advantage in what they produce and sell. They find it in the way they lead and manage” – Bjarte Bogsnes

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Identifying and nurturing the future leaders in your organisation should always be high on a tech leaders priority list.

It’s not only the fact that good leadership is a competitive advantage but also, building effective leadership capabilities around you is a win:win as your need to delegate must be balanced with your need to delegate with confidence.

But there has been a flaw in the traditional model of leadership and management skills training in that it’s often received too late by the recipient.

Well, what does that mean?

It’s often the case, particularly with fast growth companies, that people can be accelerated into management and leadership roles before they or their company have triggered any leadership training … which is akin to taking your driving test a few years after you’ve started driving. Any bad habits acquired through a lack of training, mentoring, guidance are likely to be ingrained and difficult to shift.

Often this delay in preparedness is because leadership and softer skills are not always deemed to be the training priority, particularly for developers and engineers where the focus is clearly dominated by technical training (and fire fighting).

We know from discussions with ambitious technologists that some CEOs and senior executives remain stuck in a past of viewing tech as a cost centre, and not the driving heart of a business. This leads to a blindness about the professional development requirements for those in or heading towards senior technology roles.

We regularly chat with tech leaders around the world frustrated by the lack of vision shown by their CEO or line manager about the need and impact of leadership training. 

Leadership : There is a lot too it …

Then CEOs complain about the lack of business-fluency and leadership instinct from their senior tech team.

There is also an issue with some organisations (and their talented employees) suffering from the Peter Principle where certain managers only stop being promoted when they reach the level of their own incompetence. 

If you’ve worked below someone like that, you will know the impact they can have on employee morale and wider company performance. They will also defensively block attempts from those more talented to improve and progress within the organisation.

The Great Training Robbery

Harvard Business Review explored some of these issues in a study
”Why leadership training fails and what to do about it” …

“Three-quarters of the nearly 1,500 senior managers at 50 organizations interviewed were dissatisfied with their companies’ learning and development function. Only one in four reported that it was critical to achieving business outcomes. Decades’ worth of studies show why it isn’t working, but, sadly, that understanding has not made its way into most companies.”

They found that the benefits of training had the most impact when championed by senior leaders, a top down approach that helps motivate people to learn and change; creates the conditions for them to apply what they’ve studied; fosters immediate improvements in individual and organizational effectiveness; and puts in place a system and culture that helps sustain the learning. 

One of the major challenges with traditional corporate training and still now with e-Learning, is engagement and application, making sure an individual can apply the learning gained to their immediate working environment.

If the organisation doesn’t support an individual to implement on a daily basis what they have learned, then after 2-3 days they will regress back to their old habits. There is also evidence that employees also struggle to implement new habits when their own superiors are not living what had been taught. 

The “Do as I say, not do as I do” doctrine of corporate leadership …

The HBR article found that companies consistently struggle with ..

(1) unclear direction on strategy and values, which often leads to conflicting priorities; 

(2) senior executives who don’t work as a team and haven’t committed to a new direction or acknowledged necessary changes in their own behavior; 

(3) a top-down or laissez-faire style by the leader prevents honest conversation about problems; 

(4) a lack of coordination due to poor organizational design; 

(5) inadequate leadership time and attention given to talent issues; and 

(6) employees’ fear of telling the senior team about obstacles to the organization’s effectiveness.

Barriers to progress they describe as “Silent Killers”.

What Attributes Do Successful Leaders Need?

We’ve been running a series of online interviews with tech leaders around the world, primarily focused on how they`ve been managing and leading through the pandemic but also looking more widely into what they see as key attributes for successful tech leaders …

“Authenticity, humanity and empathy” – Marcin Floryan, Spotify

“Empathy, an eye for talent, interest & an aptitude for technology and how, when it’s applied with flair and creativity it almost always acts as a force for good. Anyone can read books but you need genuine empathy for the people around you. The ability to build teams is also critical. The cult of personality that builds up around some people is ultimately in the medium or long term quite destructive.” – Colin McQuade, Barclays International

“Part of our job is to speak the language of the business and be an advocate for the technology on the board where maybe not everyone else is from a technology background. But technology has become as important as an understanding of finance or marketing or sales and not every CFO or CEO comes from that digital background. So it’s important that we speak the language of everyone else and champion technology at that level and make sure we do put technology at the heart of the business” – Ben Jones, Growth from Knowledge

“I’m careful to make sure that I’m working with all the different team members at the different levels of engagement that they require and that I’m demonstrating through my actions that I have their best interests at heart while I do my best to marry their interests with the interests of the business. And if I do those 3 things, as well as I can, in relation to how I work with my team, that makes me a successful leader from the point of view of my team. Then from the point of view of my leaders it’s really just about transparency and visibility as well as accuracy and detail” – Jerome Pimmel, AWS

“I think these have changed. If it used to be; having a strong vision, hiring the right team, picking the right toolset. Nowadays it’s more about; building the right ecosystem of partners, having the right platform to enable innovation. Those are the two things that senior tech leaders really need to focus on these days” – Tim Hooley, Red Hat Europe

“I’d say the key are human characteristics of creativity, risk taking, innovation and putting people first” – Shilpa Shah, Deloitte

Looking more widely at corporate leadership and Jacob Morgan is an author and leadership expert who wrote about a book called “The Future Leader : 9 Skills and Mindsets to Succeed in the Next Decade”.

Main thesis of the book is to look at whether current leaders are ready for the future and how well they are practising skills and mindset. 

Spoiler alert … His conclusion is not positive with a key observation from hundreds of interviews that leaders think they’re good at being leaders whilst their direct reports say they’re not. The book focuses on skills and mindsets a successful leader needs in their toolkit, namely … 

MindsetSkills
Humility and VulnerabilityAbility to motivate, engage and inspire
CuriosityTo be a futurist
Embrace diversityTech savvy
Think big pictureCoach people
Growth mindsetEmotional Intelligence
Lifelong learnerEmpathy and Self Awareness

What matters in modern leadership training?

A recent Global Leadership study found that only 14% of CEOs feel they have the leadership talent they need to execute their business strategies and that companies who develop high-potential leaders earlier are 4.2x more likely to financially outperform ones that don’t. 

Clearly it’s not just good for you that your future leaders receive effective leadership training in good time, it needs to be a strategic imperative for the wider business.  

So what are the important factors you need to include in a modern leadership training strategy?

1.     Ability to identify high flyers

How do you identify and nurture future talent?

This article looks at 12 ways to identify future leaders and talks about having the right assessments tools, moving potential ahead of performance, identifying coaching skills, pulse surveys, job rotation and more.

Consider how your company currently identifies future leaders, is it based on instinct and something more methodical?

2. One Size Does Not Fit All

Trying to shoehorn your high flyers into an off-the-shelf solution or expensive executive program is likely to create mixed results because, quite simply, everyone is different.

The future of leadership training will be nuanced and personalised. It will need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of an individual and create a programme that delivers the optimal impact for that individual, whilst remaining aligned with the corporate strategy,

3.     Timing is Everything

Where is that employee on their personal career and learning journey? Analysis of individual need and timing is crucial for achieving the best impact. 

You need to invest time and resources in the right people, at the right time and a combination of surveys, interviews and assessments should form an integral part of the training process and help you both narrow the focus and desired outcome.

4.     Make It Relevant

One of the most demoralising and costly types of training is the failure we mentioned earlier of them losing what they have learnt within 2-3 days of returning to work. A failure to embed any new skills into their immediate daily activities.

Those initial assessments should help shape not only the training required but also how to maximise the impact and legacy.

The MBA is a classic example of an intense learning programme where the skills are rarely used within the immediate working environment. Many students, particularly those who take the full time MBA, come roaring out of business school ready to apply their new strategic nous to the world only to find it takes years for them to be in a position to implement what they’ve learned. 

Another issue with many executive leadership courses is they’re often taught by academics and consultants without recent ‘coalface’ experience which, in a fast moving world is not ideal.

You want to avoid that feeling of …. “Great course, but where do I go now?”

5.     Agree Target Outcomes

Whatever is learnt, embedded and enjoyed it needs to be attached to clear target outcomes, ideally something that can be measured.

Aside from the obvious measurements of career progression and increased salary etc. there needs to be a more nuanced understanding that the learning process has delivered a real impact, be that behavioural, performance, knowledge capital.

CTO Academy uses a regular skills assessment to measure ongoing progress, each new assessment layered on top of previous versions so progress (or otherwise) can become very visual.  

Psychometric assessments, surveys, 360 reviews can all play a part.

6. Culture and Autonomy

Ultimately one of the best learning environments is the one you create around the team as the leader yourself. 

Is it an environment where trust is given, autonomy provided and mistakes can be made?

Do you provide future leaders with the confidence to ask questions, challenge the status quo, learn from the day to day? 

That will go back to you and your own leadership skills. 

Your own approach and application of the mindset and skills identified earlier as being key to becoming an effective leader.

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CTO Academy Leadership Training Programmes

CTO Academy help tech leaders and managers around the world to develop their leadership and soft skills.

Our executive leadership program is The Digital MBA for Technology Leaders.

Our emerging leaders program is The Future Leaders Course.

We also offer our CTO Academy Membership package (included free with The Digital MBA)

Or get in touch with me direct via [email protected]

Download Our Free eBook!

90 Things You Need To Know To Become an Effective CTO

CTO Academy Ebook - CTO Academy

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