SOURCE: The Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group

December 10, 2014 11:02 ET

Is Your Company's Leadership Perspective Mired in the 20th Century?

Today's Fast-Changing Environment Requires Leaders Who Can Detect Patterns, Self-Correct and Empathize -- Yet Outdated Leadership Models Remain Prevalent, Says Boston Consulting Group Expert

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - Dec 10, 2014) - Too many companies may be facing a gap between the leadership they have now and the leadership perspective they will need for critical roles in the future, as faster communications, shifting demographics and countless other changes make the business landscape uncertain and ambiguous.

"There are some aspects of leadership that are timeless, like vision, intelligence, good judgment, courage, ambition and integrity," says Roselinde Torres, a New York-based senior partner of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and leadership expert in its People & Organization practice. "However, the hierarchical, inward-focused leadership style that defined the 20th century is unraveling. The leadership profiles, programs and processes that businesses used in the 20th century do not fit 21st-century leadership needs."

Requirements for 21st-Century Leadership

Torres says there are four key characteristics that differentiate leaders who thrive in today's fast-changing business environment:

  • The capacity to navigate: This skill allows leaders to scan the constantly shifting landscape for signals, patterns and trends that may impact their company's ability to grow.
  • The capacity to empathize: Leaders need the ability to reach people who are different from them. "Empathetic leaders can connect with others through a softer influence than simple, top-down hierarchy," says Torres. "Instead of asserting herself through the power of her position, the 21st-century leader exerts influence based on values."
  • The capacity to self-correct: Self-correcting has to do with understanding that a practice or behavior that worked well in the past may not be as effective today -- and can actually be damaging. "Organizations now need executives and leaders who question the status quo and revisit their own personal and long-held assumptions about leadership, business and success," adds Torres.
  • The capacity to set up win-win propositions for stakeholders: Leaders must embrace the increased transparency and competition wrought by rapid information flows. "We are seeing a broader array of stakeholders, with NGOs, labor unions, community organizations, bloggers, and many others joining the traditional network of customers, suppliers and employees," says Torres. "As a result, the most effective leaders strive to create winning propositions for the entire spectrum of stakeholders."

"Think of these four characteristics as the four points of a compass. They act as a directional guide in a more volatile, uncertain and globally interconnected world," says Torres.

Leadership Training Should Reflect Complexities of Modern World

It is one thing to understand conceptually what it takes to be a 21st-century leader; it is another to identify and nurture the next generation of leaders within an organization. To do so, training programs should aim to place future leaders outside their comfort zones and force them to confront the complexities of the modern world. Torres says that some of the most important aspects of 21st-century leadership training include:

  • Expanding horizons. This could include sending someone to work in a new business unit, in an external entity like an industry group or government panel, or a new country or continent. "When future leaders are exposed to new and different environments, they are forced to learn how to connect with, understand and mobilize people toward a single goal," says Torres.
  • Creating fast tracks. Some companies are deciding to connect leadership assignments to key strategic needs and requirements and to narrow the responsibilities of older leaders. "Both of these tactics allow younger leaders to take on more responsibilities faster," adds Torres.
  • Accelerating skills development. Companies frequently have less time to cultivate leaders -- instead of 15 or 20 years, the timeframe today is closer to 10 or 12 years. "Quarterly talent reviews, timely feedback evaluations and leadership-sharing partnerships can all help to ensure that the next generation of leaders has the right skills for the job," says Torres.

"Generic leadership development programs are outdated and ineffective," she stresses. "Instead of imposing leadership models from above, companies should build them from the outside in, through careful and orchestrated exposure to a range of new experiences rather than classical leadership training."

To arrange an interview with Torres, please contact Frank Lentini, Sommerfield Communications at +1 (212) 255-8386 / Lentini@sommerfield.com.

About The Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 81 offices in 45 countries. For more information, please visit bcg.com.

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