Are senior Indian leaders comfortable with being uncomfortable?


Aon’s assessment data of senior executives in India reveals five critical insights.

Today, the industry is witnessing a profound transformation, rendering survival of businesses in tough situations and requiring leaders to re-define their paradigms for success.

Organisations across industries, sectors, and geographies are grappling with challenges posed by external environmental forces and internal complexities.

In response to the external megatrends, talent strategy has seen an upward movement in the priority list of CEOs. Among other such talent strategies, one element that CEOs will need to immediately focus on is gauging the readiness of senior leaders to capitalise on transformational trends.

Contemporary literature has a number of studies that focus on highlighting the changing behavioural expectations from senior leaders.

However, what remains a lacuna is determining the areas where leaders fall short of displaying the required behaviours or where leadership deficit prevails.

In this light, we carried out an analysis of Aon’s assessment data on demonstrated behaviours and innate personality dispositions amongst senior level executives in organisations across industries.

Our findings reveal five critical insights:

56 percent of leaders exhibit limited strategic foresight  

Our findings suggest that 56 percent of senior leaders lack the required competence to display strategic orientation, a woefully alarming figure considering the current challenges that organisations are grappling with.

Strategic foresight requires leaders to adopt a broad perspective and external frame of reference. However, leaders are seen to be focussing on execution excellence and driving results. Findings suggest that for over 20 percent of senior leaders, operational excellence emerged as a key strength.

This gap could be primarily attributed to the fact that organisations have traditionally focused on providing vertical career trajectory to employees. While functional structures breed efficiency, they do thwart exposure beyond the specific functional areas, limiting foresight from a multi-dimensional perspective.

In much of our work in the career management space, we have witnessed resistance amongst team leaders to “let go” of their best employees to another function. This is coupled with the tendency of organisations in India to reward short-term gains and immediate wins over long-term orientation.

Be as it may, considering the importance of balancing strategic and tactical outlook, organisations will need to encourage their top teams to keep an organisational view of talent and celebrate career movements that are sideways. In successful implementations, we have seen that a robust succession planning process often mandates exposure to different geographies and functions before one can be considered for identified critical leadership roles.

70 percent of the leaders lack the capability to act as bold thinkers or passionate explorers

Today, innovation is more a non-negotiable skill than a source of competitive advantage. Though disruptive envisioning is emerging as one of the most critical competencies for success in the future, the sad reality is that nearly 70 percent of the senior leaders in India lack the capability to act as bold thinkers or passionate explorers.

Leaders today aren’t fully geared to stimulating disruption or thinking beyond the obvious. The paucity of innovative leaders can be attributed to the absence of educational pedagogy or formal leadership development programmes that focus on developing the ability of leaders to challenge the status quo, question the set assumptions and embrace diverse and divergent opinions.

Irrespective, organisations today are in dire need of leaders who demonstrate highly imaginative thinking and support the development of new ideas, allowing failures along the way. Thus, organisations will need to realign the mindset of senior leaders using the three C principle of Curiosity, Courage and Comfort. Curiosity to spark unconventional questions and experiment with new ideas, the courage to critique the untested methods and comfort with ever-evolving technology, are the areas that we see organisations test and expose their senior leaders work towards.

 63 percent of leaders face significant challenges in sensing and responding to shifting dynamics

 A lot of organisations are showing interest to assess the readiness of their leaders to navigate the newer, atypical, and complex challenges of the changing environment. Our assessment suggests that nearly 63 percent of senior leaders face significant challenges in terms of sensing and responding to shifting dynamics and context with precision. Even aspirational scores in this area were found to be substantially lower as compared to other improvement areas. One of the many factors contributing to this result is the leader’s innate pre-disposition to leverage his current strengths than developing new ones thereby focusing more on doing rather than improving.

On the contrary, a hallmark of agile leadership is continually developing oneself and improvising over time. Successful leaders will need to build the ability to swiftly embrace these emerging disruptions like the digital sphere. We have witnessed an organisation set up an innovative mentoring scheme of ‘reverse mentoring’ in which the top performing digital recruits coach the company’s senior managers, to bring them up-to-speed on digital innovation. This not only helps to enhance the digital skills of the senior team, but it also motivates and engages the new employees and raises their profile within the business.

70 percent of the leaders fail to effectively exercise influence and inspire others through purpose

The ability of senior leaders to inspire and influence others was found to be most wanting. Only 5 percent of the leaders demonstrate highly effective behaviours when it comes to displaying ‘idealised influence’. It is of supreme importance for senior leaders to develop their ability to act as compelling and credible storytellers and to lead with energy and passion. Data reveals that there’s a significant skill gap in the leader’s ability to be organisational and politically savvy to form necessary internal coalitions within and across the organization. Seventy percent of leaders fail to exhibit required competence in this area.

Organisations that are aware of these gaps in the leadership team are working towards addressing the “connector” and “storyteller” aspects of their leadership brand. Greater emphasis is being made on the need to collaborate and communicate inspiring stories, beyond merely business numbers, to the team. These are being done through having organisation wide sessions on helping leaders find their individual purpose.

50 percent of the leaders struggle to effectively provide development guidance to their team members

The role of leaders as talent magnets, coaches, and mentors is deemed paramount, today. Leaders are being given a mandate of nurturing their successors, which ensures their sustained success. However, our assessment data analysis reveals a significant deficiency in coaching skills in today’s leaders. It was found that over 50 percent of leaders are not able to effectively provide clear and consistent feedback, encouragement and developmental guidance to their team members.

Unfortunately, only 4 percent leaders displayed role model behaviours in terms of creating structure and generating clear goals to enable teams to accomplish its objectives. The ability to move potential into performance is considered a basic tenet of leadership.

Yet, leaders are facing obstacles when it comes to developing and coaching their teams. Thus, this is an area which is getting heightened attention. Most top companies for leaders are mandating for around 70 percent of the senior leaders to spend more than a third of their time in identifying, developing or communicating with their top talent and teams.

A major part of this time is expected to be spent in being part of talent review discussions, discussing successors for critical roles, being a coach or a mentor to identified individuals, driving actions on engagement results etc. Leaders are being formally held accountable for engagement of their teams and this is emerging to be an important criterion in their own career growth into C-suite roles.

The immediate issue for organisations and CEOs is bridging the leadership deficit or gaps by providing conventional and unconventional development opportunities to its leaders with a full menu of development strategies, including learning labs, action learning projects, coaching, mentoring and reverse mentoring, multi-rater assessments and experiences that amplify the understanding of business context. Ultimately, strong leadership will be the differentiator between a smooth path and a rocky road to a successful transition.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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