Leadership development is being disrupted, quietly and surely

Hariraj Vijayakumar
January 12, 2021

Leading in the Flow of Work (abbreviated as LeadFloW) is the bold new approach to an age-old practice in leadership development. LeadFloW is the practice of using direct experience as the medium of development.  

Effective leadership development is very rare. Of course, leadership development offered by high-profile executive coaches to leaders of Fortune 100 companies and to billionaire businessmen is effective. Nothing much else is as effective. What do they differently from regular executive coaches? They certainly coach with great skills and enable the leader to reflect on and clarify the leadership actions they are taking. They also help the leader evaluate key priorities, hold critical conversations, analyse pressing problems, and make crucial decisions. Apart from immersing themselves in the context of the leader they are also available to the leader day-in and day-out at the exact time when they are actually needed. It takes significant time and effort of these scarce high-profile coaching resources. While this is effective, it is neither scalable nor sustainable. Nor is it accessible to 99% of the business leaders.

Much of other leadership development that is delivered across the world is complex, fuzzy and ineffective. Why are those solutions then so much in demand, you may ask? It is simply because the world is hungry for better leaders. If you don't believe my opinion on the demand, check any of the surveys that rank the top issues faced by CEOs. Quality of leadership will always be among top five issues. Any solution that offers even superficial gains are therefore pursued. The continuing gap between CEO expectation and program effectiveness is also the reason leadership development does not have a high name among most business leaders. Effective leadership development requires significant investment today, both time and money. Many CEOs are unable to prioritize such heavy time investment because the current solutions don't offer direct ROI similar to most business investments.

What if great design and intelligent technology can make this same exact effective leadership development happen at a fraction of current costs and operational effort? What if the technology can help the leader build a master-skill around managing the development process himself or herself? What if such a master-skill can help the leader build the acumen on when exactly to pull in developmental resources such as executive coaches? And what if this is backed by tried-and-tested experience, researched models, and science?

Leading in the flow of work (LeadFloW) makes it possible.

What is LeadFloW?

To describe it, I must first outline the prevailing approaches in leadership development. Broadly, there are 3 types of approaches used by leadership development products & services available today. Some products and services use a combination of Types 1 and 2.

Type 1 - These use Leadership Values & Drivers as the base. Some of them may use a derivative of values & beliefs; could be personality preferences, personality traits, custom models of behavioral drivers, etc. For example, personality preferences are an effective model to create awareness in the leader on how think, make choices and act. Many high-touch programs use this model but very few products do. And because this approach offers insights that deepen the personal awareness, it offers enduring motivation for leaders to invest time in development.

Type 2 - These use Competencies & Behaviors as the base model. This is the most popular type. Huge number of leadership assessments are available under this class, so are leadership development programs and leadership development software products. For example, a leadership program may focus on ‘Top 2 competencies’ (say interpersonal effectiveness & result orientation) because they are a core part of the business organization’s competency model. This approach offers the easiest model for the provider to scale, yet it is the hardest one to achieve effectiveness at mid to senior levels of leadership. The compelling reasons for HR and business leaders to adopt this approach, is that it is easy to understand, and one can make and see progress in the ‘activities involved’, and finally, they are not nearly as expensive as Type 3.

Type 3 – Leadership performance-in-context, forms the basis for these types of solutions. The focus is on the gamut of decisions and conversations that the leader conducts in his or her daily setting. This is the conventional domain of performance management products and services. However, in leadership development, solution providers tend to distance themselves from this approach. It’s because this is the hardest approach to scale (imagine dedicated executive coaches on a daily cycle!), yet the one with the highest potential to be effective. Very few solution providers use this type, and by-and-large we find individuals (aka Coaches with an extraordinary hourly rate) offering this service.  

LeadFloW is a variation on the Type 3 approach. The core of LeadFloW is about supporting the leader in the microcosm of his/her actions. It enables the leader to become effective in every action – be it a choice, a conversation, or a creative step. It is highly contextual and in the weeds. It is also about delivering ‘agency’ back to the leader when it comes to their own development. It can be viewed as a structured experience that enables the leader to observe and build the habits of leadership development over time. It starts with an exploration of underlying drivers of the mind involved, like the Type 1 approach.  It uses development methods of the Type 2 approach in a limited and focused manner. For example, a skill building effort is kept limited and sharply focused on making a specific leader action effective.

Why is LeadFloW, the next big thing in Leadership development?

Leadership development has been in the hands of facilitators and coaches for far too long. I have nothing against them; me and my team are part of the community. I simply want the sponsor and the leader to have the control. They know their context. The approach of pumping more and more 'wise content' into leaders digitally does not look promising for the same reason. ‘Content’ – however attractively packaged it may be - devoid of ‘context’ does not have the answers. Sponsors who invest money into leadership solutions – the ones who benefit from or bear the consequence of - apart from the leaders themselves, are looking for effectiveness. Nothing less will do.

LeadFlow takes aim at the effectiveness of development. The approach does not care about whether it is scalable, it cares about whether it works.

Digital technologies such as the Social, Cloud, Mobile, and AI enables solution providers to deliver LeadFloW solutions without breaking the bank. Businesses have tried the full gamut of leadership development approaches so far. They are ready for a brand-new approach.

I predict that we will see several solutions using the LeadFloW approach in the coming years. With it, ‘effective’ leadership development shall go mainstream!