Why Are Innovation Skills Essential For High-Potential Leaders Of The Future?

Article written by John K. Coyle and Raphael Louis Vitón

The High-Potential (HiPo) Leadership Development Gap: Innovation

Finding and developing the high-potential leaders of the future for most companies is a high priority. According to the 2014 UNC Leadership Study, 85 percent of global senior leaders agree:

“There is an urgent need to accelerate the development of their leaders.”

Most global HR leaders say their corporations are “weak” at developing leaders of the future (only 48 percent have a formal process for developing high-potential employees).

High-potential leadership programs exist in some large organizations and for good reason. As the best and brightest, most influential leaders of the future begin to make their mark and lead larger and larger teams, control more budget and make more impactful decisions, it is essential that they are equipped with the right tools to analyze business situations, make informed decisions AND, at the same time, inspire and empower those around them in order to bring the best out of those they lead. In some companies, this is a major investment including: programs that last up to two years or more; quarterly summits where the participants go offsite; and monthly meetings as well as predefined projects or simulations on which they collaborate.

However, despite these significant commitments, oftentimes something is missing:

Only 40 percent of those surveyed report that their high potentials can meet future business needs (2014 UNC Leadership Study)

More often than not, these programs are designed for the business of yesteryear. Sure, the curriculum includes important things like making data-driven decisions, analytical tools and frameworks, and usually a large component on leadership skills, leading teams, delegating, dealing with conflict, leading from the heart, etc. But with a quick scan of the marketplace, most of these programs don’t train leaders for the new realities of business today and the essential and important role of innovation.

Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014

We remain convinced that some of the biggest opportunities for companies to improve growth, innovation, and performance center squarely on how business leaders reimagine, reinvent, and reinvigorate human capital strategies…”

Despite most CEOs suggesting innovation as a number one priority, these “feeder programs” for tomorrow’s leaders fail to include training or experience on the mindset, processes and tools of innovation leadership required for leaders of tomorrow. In future articles, we will get into those skill sets, mindsets and tools, but for today we will focus on WHY the innovation mindset and skill sets have emerged as essential.

Why Is Innovation Leadership Development Essential For Leaders Of The Future?

1) It will never be this slow again. Business change is not slowing down. We’ve heard it for the last two decades, every day and in every hallway — “so much change, so much going on, barely keeping up.” There is no indication that the pace of business, information and decision-making will slow down. There is every indication that it will continue to accelerate.

The obvious but often denied implication? This means that new ways of learning will also continue to accelerate. New innovative practices to predict a future (that is coming sooner than ever) will have to become a part of the repertoire if these leaders are to navigate what is to come. New tool sets and mindsets are required to navigate successfully let alone lead in this “new normal.”

2) VUCA is the “new normal.” Leading businesses in the VUCA environment requires more than intellectually understanding the acronym: It takes new muscles, new eyes and new capabilities to operate skillfully. The business world has adopted this acronym to help accurately dimensionalize the business conditions we face today. It was borrowed from the leadership development program at the United States Military Academy at West Point. VUCA stands for:

  • Volatility: speed, rate, intensity of change forces
  • Uncertainty: likelihood for surprise
  • Complexity: multiplex of change forces (e.g., political, social, economic)
  • Ambiguity: potential for misreading the signs

3) The transition to the creative age is irreversible. According to Daniel Pink, we are living through the transition of economic eras, just like we have in the past. If we have learned anything from previous ones, we have learned that every cultural transition goes through three consistent patterns:

  1. New always happens
  2. Resistance and suffering always happens
  3. The “right” new always wins

Leaders of the future will be counted on to help communities and companies win the transition…and they will only win by learning, not by knowing. Leaders will need to be learning how to live a lifestyle of adaptability — a lifestyle that increases their performance under increased stress. Winning the transition requires a commitment to increasing their readiness, willingness and ability in any circumstance — enabling high-potential leaders to choose their response to VUCA in the most generative ways possible. These choices will help their team transition faster and more successfully. If they choose a response that resists the need to transition or delays transformation, they will only be dooming their followers to increased suffering and permanent damage (like all the other leaders who found themselves on the wrong side of history).

Conclusion: If you truly want to prepare your future leaders for the world of business they will inherit, your HiPo program should include modules on innovation and training on how to live, lead and innovate in the world of tomorrow. One point of consideration: When you choose your program or instructors, consider the academics, but keep in mind that, more often than not, it is the practitioners of a craft who make the best teachers — those who have been in the trenches, rolled up their sleeves, and lived through the chaos and ambiguity of “real” innovation.

To chat more with John about this, CLICK HERE.

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