We are living in an age where technology and personalization have blended into the fabric of what it means to be a leader. The ability to interact smoothly within these two landscapes is the essence of what it means to be effective now and in the future. But not all leaders are comfortable in both worlds.
For instance, because of the proliferation of technology, leaders have access to more information today than ever before. However, that does not mean they are better informed. One of a modern leader’s main responsibilities is to sift through the massive amounts of information that bombard him or her daily to get to what is truly important, what is trite and what requires immediate attention.
The impact of social media has complicated matters. All leaders today require a brand, whether they want one or not. How we connect — in person, through blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or through other methods of online collaboration — says more about us than we may realize. Therefore, effective leaders need to be able to connect with people in multiple, real and personal ways.
The Power of Information Learning
Being open, approachable and vulnerable in an age where information can be had in the blink of an eye is a bit like a high-wire balancing act with many moving parts.
Based on ongoing research from the past 50 years by global human resources consulting firm Caliper Corp., where the author works, effective leaders tend to feature certain key attributes: They are visionary, charismatic, assertive, able to easily connect with others, innovative, persuasive, resilient, have a need to get things done and are often willing to take risks. These traits are the foundation for what makes a successful leader, but this is only the starting point. To develop leaders in the Facebook era requires that learning professionals create offerings to enable the proper mix of all these ingredients as well as help to ensure leaders can connect through multiple mediums.
“We are entering a new era where there is a genuine desire to make learning more accessible and available, adapted to each individual’s learning style,” said Helen Slaven, chief learning officer for Montefiore Medical Center.
With the emergence of social media, new leaders can share ideas, best practices and experiences on a level playing field, interacting with everyone in their organization more than ever before. Communication in organizations is no longer top-down. Intermediate and even entry-level roles can now bring new ideas to their leaders for consideration. This means all the different functions in an organization are empowered to innovate, communicate and connect.
Further, in light of marketplace changes, development is no longer just about formal leadership classes; they are just a part of it. Informal learning from peers, mentors and supervisors can be just as impactful, if not more so. In today’s digitally driven world, upcoming leaders can follow the established leaders they admire on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn, absorb the information these leaders share and apply it to more formal learning environments.
Beyond breaking down barriers and creating informal learning moments, social media adds a level of transparency to leadership. A quick glance at someone’s LinkedIn page can provide insights into previous professional experiences, schooling and primary interests. This can help leaders find common ground on which to build business relationships. Connections can be instantaneous, with critical information front and center, all willingly shared in the spirit of networking and expanding horizons.
That said, many of the qualities of successful leaders have stayed the same. However, the methods by which leaders communicate and are developed have changed dramatically thanks to technology. To help elevate development initiatives, learning professionals should do a deep dive to arm themselves with information on social media tactics that align with upcoming leaders’ professional development needs. Not that all areas of social learning should be implemented, but they should be explored to see if there could be a potential fit for inclusion in a company’s learning strategy.
Coaching Is Still Key
As technology advances, learning leaders can deliver more robust leadership development initiatives to a wider audience. Learning and development doesn’t have to happen in a classroom. It can be overseas, over the phone and interactive via a learning management system.
Regardless of a company’s social learning format, learning executives should still embrace coaching first. And, while everyone has strengths and areas of developmental opportunity, one type of coaching does not fit all. For example, one potential leader might require guidance in how to communicate more directly, while another might require more focus on time management.
To fully understand how to best leverage coaching, learning executives can use a personality assessment as a baseline to get clarity on what naturally motivates each individual and what areas he or she is less enthusiastic about. Once this data is collected, third-party coaches can:
• Work closely with potential leaders to help them understand their strengths, how to leverage them and arm them with tools to help them compensate for areas in which they are weaker.
• Develop a personalized action plan with measurable goals post-assessment to keep the individual on target and engaged in the process.
• Meet with potential leaders on a regular basis and check progress frequently to help them move from where they are to where they want to be.
Herb Greenberg, founder and CEO of Caliper, said coaching needs to be customized and balanced with the convenience that social media provides. “Having assessed more than 60,000 athletes at college and professional levels, I’ve found sports coaches play the role that many coaches do in business — and in both instances there’s no one recipe that fits all.
“If a young man who is capable of throwing a baseball over 90 miles per hour is drafted, for example, a good coach would help that player be even more effective — not position him as a cleanup hitter. That coach would adjust his or her training to match who the player is and what they need to improve function.”
Greenberg said with today’s changes in how people learn, it becomes critical to understand an individual’s capacity to learn in different ways, such as remotely, because not every learning method works equally well for everyone.
Balancing the benefits of coaching with those of the social media landscape can help learning executives carve out individual growth paths for upcoming leaders.
Learning as an Art Gallery
In terms of leadership and learning, the world is not black or white; it has gray areas of opportunity. If a company has an innovation-driven culture, social learning is a natural fit. But what works in one company may not work in another. Ultimately, a cultural match will drive effectiveness.
For Montefiore’s Slaven, social media was a chance to enhance collaboration — a highly valued commodity at the organization. “We’ve recently begun creating communities online within our organization, which, I think, is an untapped way of developing people, because you leverage the talent of the group.”
Slaven also has created groups online using enterprise social network Yammer, which allows the group to do homework together, share and contribute to content, and genuinely collaborate. The team is also exploring free massive open online courses sponsored by Stanford and Harvard universities.
“There are all these sources of learning out there that just didn’t exist before,” Slaven said. “As a result, it is really changing what learning professionals like I do. We are becoming like curators in an art gallery. There are so many new possibilities, so many advanced resources. And it is up to us to decide which pieces we hang on our walls, to carry the analogy. What do we exhibit? What’s in and what’s out? We have never had the variety of resources we now have to help develop leaders. It is up to us to be the curators of learning so that leadership development can be more accessible and available.”
For Slaven, social learning is also opening up new possibilities to build up different levels of the organization. Montefiore has one program at the highest level of leadership development, which is available only by nomination from a vice president. “We created clear criteria around the kind of individuals we are looking for in terms of performance, potential and aspirations,” she said. “It opens up all kinds of possibilities because learning does not have to happen in a traditional classroom anymore. That allows people with different learning styles to excel by tapping into their own strengths.”
The Perfect Learning Mix
All of today’s learning and development options point to a fork in the road. Slaven said these new tools and technological approaches have some learning leaders afraid they may be replaced. “But just like any other technological advancement, I don’t think we will need fewer people,” she said. “We’re just going to need people with different skill sets.”
New technological approaches, such as online learning, digital interaction with learning and development professionals and webinars, can expedite learning, particularly when new skills need to be acquired. But technology must be combined with mentors to encourage and challenge high-potential individuals. Stretch assignments also can be used to create a road map for their future.
That most essential part of leadership development still has to happen one-on-one in a caring, nurturing environment. Alongside technology, that’s the perfect blend.
Patrick Sweeney is president of Caliper Corp. and co-author of “How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer.” He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
Four Ways to Prepare for Leadership Challenges
By Catherine Wolfe
To address today’s business challenges, leaders must have a clear idea of their values, performance objectives and what skills they may need. Doing that upfront work and being focused on their leadership platform and any communications skills they need to develop along with smart goals to achieve those objectives can help any leaders navigate today’s management issues.
Know what makes an effective leader. Before any steps can be taken, a person should know what characteristics will transform him or her from a manager into an effective leader. The person must consider what makes a great leader great. For instance, great leaders are often accessible — someone who employees can approach with issues — and courageous.
Establish a leadership platform. Every great leader needs clear-cut values, and everything a leader says should communicate these. A platform, or the building blocks for principles, is essential. When shaping a platform, managers can think about whether it:
• Is personally motivating: A platform should be something that is inspirational.
• Fits expertise: Leaders should be well-versed in their chosen topic.
• Makes a compelling story: This will ensure a captive audience.
• Resonates with the audience: A platform is something that not only the leader cares about, but that the audience cares about as well.
A great place to look for a platform is where a leader’s values and the organization’s objectives meet. For example, a company’s mission might center on customer-focused partnerships, and a leader might choose his or her platform based on the idea that the customer always comes first.
Set goals. To ensure leadership success, set clear goals. Goals help define objectives to work toward and will serve as motivation that sets standards for self-satisfaction with leadership performance. Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted.
Determine which communication skills need to be honed. For the audience’s endorsement, a leader should be compelling, confident and charismatic. According to a June 2012 Harvard Business Review article titled “Learning Charisma,” there are many communication techniques that a charismatic leader can use.
For instance, using contrasts in statements can make a point bigger and better. When President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” he clarified what he was not saying to make his argument stronger.
Or, rhetorical questions can be used to encourage engagement. Companies such as Geico use them in advertisements, like the television commercial that poses the question, “How happy are folks who save hundreds of dollars switching to Geico?” A humorous answer leads the audience to the conclusion that saving money leads to happiness.
Following these four steps alone won’t make someone an effective leader, however. Desire, hard work and dedication are also vital.
Catherine Wolfe is senior director of corporate and strategic communications at Toshiba America Medical Systems, a medical imaging systems company. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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