Cultivating New Leadership for Future Business

DK-OPINION-Rajesh Nair-Web

One of the most frequently asked questions in surveys and interviews over the years has been ‘What are the major challenges you foresee in your organisation in the next five years?’ While the answers have been fairly standard, highlighting issues related to business, competition, top-line growth and bottom-line margins etc., ‘leadership development’ has always figured in the list of priority areas for any organisation.

Leadership development has always figured in the list of priority areas for any organisation

Every organisation wishes to have its band of asset-generating leaders. Becoming a leader is one of the most demanding tasks for an individual. It is a process influenced by individual factors and external ones. These external parameters range from happenings on the business landscape to conditions the company is going through. The following are some of the common practices that companies can experiment with for leadership development.


Every company has its own take on what they want their leaders to accomplish. This wish list needs to be broken down into a series of winning behaviours. These behaviours can further be grouped under various leadership competencies or themes. The leadership competencies become the recipe for the development process of employees in the organisation. It provides the context to the basic development process. The important aspect is to constantly review the competencies and make adjustments according to the changing business priorities of the organisation.


The fundamental tenet for every nursery or kindergarten is to create experiences around what the child needs to learn. This could be in the form of rhymes, action songs, jigsaw puzzles etc. which provide support to the basic framework of learning. What organisations need to do is to create leadership nurseries for employees – opportunities where the individual can work and learn. The purpose of these programmes is to design experiences where the individual has to exhibit leadership competencies to manage real-life work situations.


A good practice to follow in these programmes is to assign a leadership mentor. These mentors need to be professionals within or outside the organisation with high credibility. Constant interactions with these role models reinforce various management behaviours and also serve as opportunities where the individual can use the mentor as a sounding board for bouncing off ideas and doubts. The role of the mentor is to also probe the various actions of the individual and ask questions on their rationale.


While mentoring helps in the tutoring process, a more personalised approach is the ‘leadership foxtrot’. Foxtrot, unlike most other dance forms around the world, enables a pair of dancers to gradually synchronise their steps and then encourages the dancers to develop their own signature style. The basic slow-slow-quick-quick rhythm helps the individual to slowly pick up pace and then match the routine of the leader. Such close interactions with leaders help an individual to build confidence and also explore what suits him or her best based on individual strengths.


There is no substitute for the exposure provided by different job positions. It contributes to the overall development of the individual into a well-rounded professional. The metaphor of different chairs in each round stands for the change in assignments and the reducing number of chairs denotes the elevation in hierarchy. This also helps to develop a flair for general management in the individual.


An experience and learning-sharing process for the individual before the top management builds confidence in the person while providing an opportunity to interact with and invite the views of the leadership community. An organisation needs to have a structured programme where individuals have an opportunity, on a periodic basis, for formalised learning-sharing capsules.


Education is best imparted through fables whether it is our Panchathantra or Grimm Fairy Tales. We have always found that their allegories build a basic sense of life, goodness, evil and socially acceptable actions in all its readers in their formative years. Leadership chronicles are what great leaders in their organisation or industry did during testing times. These ‘stories’ filter through the rank and file of the organisation and how those leaders overcame the many hurdles become the subject of many a discussion, creating an atmosphere of positivity.


Leadership development programmes and initiatives need to have a serious focus on execution. Although organisations have several such initiatives what they lack is the discipline to create a robust feedback-and-control dashboard. Having execution metrics on hand is also fundamental to the sustainability of these initiatives.

(The author is Associate Partner – Markets, South India, EY)