The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Innovation in leadership: Introduction


You need to think again about how you develop your leaders. Here are the reasons why.

Global_Focus-Vol.13-Issue03_Innovation_in_Leadership_PDF Global_Focus-Vol.13-Issue03_podcast

The EFMD Special Interest Group (SIG) “Innovation in Leadership” was set up in 2018 and has pulled together 12 large European companies and paired them with Hult Business School to examine what is happening to leadership development in their own business environments. The companies operate in widely different sectors ranging from finance and insurance to energy, pharmaceuticals and engineering.

Though the 12 companies have evidenced a wide variation in aims and aspirations, it became clear very quickly that the pressures they were facing and the demands on their leaders were very similar. To put it succinctly, their common problem was that they were in danger of developing their leaders for a world that had already passed.

Their increasingly critical challenge was to reverse that process and offer tangible help and support to their leaders as they battled technological change, disruption, and a hostile and challenging business environment.

The companies’ aims were to develop and share the skills, resources and experiences that would help build a coherent and empowered leadership cohort. They in turn would be ready to develop the next, emerging generation of leaders, helping them grow in skills and confidence. In order to achieve this, an entire rethink of the process of leadership development had to take place. The shift in scope and focus is summed up in Figure 1.


These are not minor revisions to existing practice, but a radical rethink of the role of leaders and leadership together with an analysis of the help and support that leaders need to survive. The push for these changes comes from the increasing turbulence in the external environment and the subsequent need to manage and lead through uncertainty, driven by a constant need for readjustment and realignment.

This was not a question of fine-tuning leadership development but drastically changing it in the light of the acutely differing needs that were emerging. Big established companies were being disrupted by start-ups; key staff were leaving because they felt unsupported and confused; teams were demanding answers that leaders were unable to provide. There was in many member organisations within the SIG a significant crisis of confidence and challenge at the heart of what leadership meant – as well as a fundamental challenge to assumptions about how and what leaders need to learn.

At the first face-to-face meeting hosted by global chocolate-maker Barrie Callibaut at its development centre in Marbach, [Germany] the group began to share strategies and ideas. As common ground emerged, this process led to a decision to try to formulate some coherent statement about what everyone agreed would shape the future of leadership development in each of the dozen member companies.

The Marbach meeting was also the starting point for the process of scoping the range of innovations that each member of the SIG was working on as a response to leadership challenges. These discussions culminated (following later webinar debates) in eight agreed beliefs that that would influence the future of leadership development and in the creation of a number of case studies around innovation.

The beliefs that emerged were:

The eight beliefs

  1. Experiential learning is the single most efficient way to develop leaders;
  2. Reflection is a critical key to cementing understanding;
  3. Transformational change should be a desired outcome of many leadership development interventions;
  4. Group and peer learning encourage not only individual but collective learning and a focus on the organisation as a whole;
  5. The digital transformation going on inside organisations should be mirrored in leadership development;
  6. Leadership development should be, rather than a single event, a continuous process integrated with work;
  7. Changes in the workplace of the future (such as the development of less hierarchical and more diverse organisations) should be reflected in leadership development;
  8. Increased resilience – of the individual and of the organisation – should be a critical outcome of leadership development.

The eight beliefs were agreed and signed-off by each company in the SIG. Although the degree of uptake for, and investment in, each of the beliefs varied company by company, the beliefs track the general direction of travel of each organisation in terms of their leadership development thinking and aspirations.

Each, taken alone, represents a big shift from traditional development programmes. Collectively, they represent a transformation in the way leaders are supported and developed, and a significant innovation in an area that many have claimed is ripe for disruption (see, for example, Jeffrey Pfeffer Leadership BS and Barbara Kellerman The End of Leadership).

The articles in this Global Focus Special Supplement go some way to illustrating the impact and influence of these beliefs. Three of them offer an insight into the thinking around leadership development from key members of the SIG: Nokia, Bayer and Siemens. The other three represent an articulate and challenging commentary on how leadership can be taught in such challenging times, and some insights provided by those who help companies provide new solutions.

These articles are not a recipe book! They do not offer a step-by-step approach for readers to follow slavishly. It is much more context-setting and an exploration of this challenging environment and how the number of companies are beginning to build effective models and solutions. Johan Roos, the Chief Academic Officer of Hult Business School, argues in his article “Techno-Humanism: If algorithms make all the decisions, who is the leader?” that the changes facing our environment are such that the eight beliefs can only go so far in driving transformational change and building increased resilience in our leaders.

They are perhaps core building blocks to tackle the new challenges that, he writes, will emerge in the immediate future. These could include the potential conflict between data-generated management and a search for what is authentic, and the challenge of leading and managing in a world where humans and technology merge. What scope is there for human intervention? Roos claims that “a cacophony of signals threatens our inner voice”. If this is true, how do we build trust with others and how do we understand ourselves?

Nick Shackleton-Jones, an authority on adult learning at PA Consulting (see Nick Shackleton- Jones How People Learn Kogan Page 2019), puts his finger on what he calls “the training delusion” in his article “The training delusion: the man who thought Play-Doh was for cleaning walls.” This is the gap between what individuals who receive the learning think they are doing, in contrast to what the providers believe is happening. Without bridging that gap, he is pessimistic about the impact of any corporate learning initiative.

He argues strongly for several of the eight beliefs: getting away, for example, from courses in order to build authentic experiences; and working with the business to build effective transformation rather than presenting courses and programmes as a fait accompli.

His solutions are simple: we need to spend a lot more time asking questions and listening to discover what people care about and what they do not care about, and then using this as the basis for developing resources and experiences.

Tony O’Driscoll, from Fuqua Business School at Duke University in the US, takes another tack in “Leadership as a System: circumventing the VUCA Vortex.” He focuses on the difficulty of navigating through complexity. He defines this as coping with a rate of change that has moved from simple velocity, through increased acceleration to lightning bolts that sporadically propel us forward. This means we have to accept and work through a new normal of constant disequilibrium where the context for how we work is not simply complex but chaotic. He looks at how we can build leaders to manage in such an environment and by engaging experimenting and responding in real time.

These three articles from observers and commentators on leadership are complemented by three from those actually responsible for leadership development in their respective organisations.

Joel Casse and Bori Molnar from Nokia define leadership as “the art of getting people to define tomorrow today” in “Discovery Journey: Innovation in Leadership Development.” The company has pioneered what it calls “Discovery Journeys”, placing senior leaders in new and challenging environments. This helps them explore potential new markets and to understand the way the tech market and the “Internet of Things” are evolving so that Nokia can develop strategies for meeting these new needs before they have become completely visible.

To do this, the programmes have no curriculum and no defined outcomes. There are explorations with a focus on bringing back insight and leading innovation in the company. After a year, real progress has been achieved. Nokia is exploring market areas where it was not visible before and encouraging its leaders to be more challenging, resourceful and curious.

Volker Rosen from Siemens describes the establishment of its Global Learning Campus, which was set up to offer cutting-edge learning methods paired with experienced experts to ensure that Siemens expertise could be shared around the world quickly and consistently.

Because it is largely virtual and ever-present, the aim is to make the Global Learning Campus an integral part of every employee’s day-to-day working life. Leadership learning is integrated to the Global Learning Campus and is tailored to the needs of Siemens managers, from first-time managers to those who manage other managers.

One core aspect of this management development programme is to help Siemens’ leaders thrive in a digital world and to accelerate the process of digital transformation that is taking place. This is a critical aspect of all leadership roles in the company. The Campus is truly global, based in 30 operating units around the world.

Bayer is going through huge structural changes and leaders need to be able to expand their capacity to manage both the intense complexity of the world outside, as well as the new Bayer structure, inside. Susan Francis, in “Leadership development has to reflect modern contexts” shares her insights into the radical realignment of leadership development within the company.

In order to achieve this radical realignment, Bayer set up a diverse project team from across the organisation with the key task of generating a new model of leadership with clearly articulated expectations. The team used agile principles to iterate a new model quickly, which could then be presented back to the HR leadership team for review.

The elements of the model included transformational leadership through strong purpose, empowering employees, driving innovation, agility, strong customer connection, building external collaborations, and creating positive impact on the lives of both employees and customers inside an inclusive culture where people can thrive. The final shape of the learning programme will be determined by leaders within the organisation, but the core elements are now well established and will completely revolutionise the way leadership is seen, felt and lived-out inside the company. These capabilities will take Bayer forward into its next iteration.

This special supplement of Global Focus hones in on a critical concern for every organisation within and without the EFMD ambit. No organisation can function without a leadership ethos and culture but it has to be fit for purpose. This supplement explores the way that leadership development is evolving to respond to the changes and challenges facing every organisation.

See more articles from Vol.13 Issue 03 – ’19 – Innovation in Leadership.

[starbox id=”Nigel Paine,Roger Delves”]

Nigel Paine is an author, broadcaster and consultant working for Nigel ltd.

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