Thanks to the pandemic, the role leadership development, which has remained relatively static throughout the twentieth century, and the beginning of the twenty-first, are suddenly being refocused and re-defined — driving the need to immerse talent development teams throughout enterprises. The past decade has also seen the rise of organizational development, driven by the ground swell of societal demands for change in corporate practices and culture.
So, as we strive to cultivate leadership for a new era, we are arguably entering a golden era for Talent Development and Organizational Development, where these two teams are at the helm of leading for change.
Are We Entering the Golden Age of Organizational
and Talent Development?
What is leadership, talent development and organization development?
To understand how talent and organizational development are driving the leader behaviors for today’s enterprises, let’s first understand what they are. Here are (my) preferred ways to define these three terms:
- Leadership: you will find many definitions of leadership. My favorite: “The action of leading a group of people or an organization,” is how the Oxford Dictionary defines leadership. Leadership is action. Leadership is also about “taking risks and challenging the status quo.” Great leaders motivate others to achieve something new and better. Interestingly, great leaders do what they do in pursuit of innovation, not out of obligation. They measure success by looking at the team’s achievements and learning.
- Organization Development: Organizational development is a necessary and science-based process that helps groups build their capacity to change and achieve greater effectiveness by developing, improving, and reinforcing strategies, structures, and processes. It addresses how the business ecosystem functions as a whole to the benefit of its employees. Organizational Development can either be a team that works from within a company — usually under HR in roles such as Organizational Development Director — or as an external team of consultants that “partner with stakeholders to determine causes for performance gaps and identify developmental solutions in an attempt to improve organizational effectiveness.”
- Talent Development: Talent development “focuses on evolving employees’ skills and proficiency by generating inclusive individual learning and development plans. This means that each employee at a particular company has an unobstructed path to expand their skills and achieve their professional ambitions.” Talent development teams also fall under the purview of HR. Traditionally, their role was identifying internal talent for training and positioning for advancement, focusing on choices that filled the organization’s needs and goals. Current talent development trends are empowering employees to pursue their passion and fields of interest within the organization — encouraging motivation, innovation, and loyalty.
Leadership yesterday, today and in the future
Traditional leadership has remained static throughout most of corporate history. In 1939, a group of psychologists categorized traditional leadership into three styles that are still applicable today:
- Authoritative: directing policy and procedure with little to no input from a team.
- Democratic: encouraging participation in decision making and the exchange of ideas from team members.
- Delegative: a hands-off approach that requires more autonomy from each team member.
While all of these styles are still recognizable–and they each have pros and cons – modern organizational development often centers around “democratic” leadership principles. While there have been numerous leadership “eras” since 1939, only now are we beginning to break away from the hierarchy of these three traditional frameworks.
Leadership development has also remained consistent throughout these eras, with the focus on executives and upper level management – most of whom came out of business school and executive training programs for leadership skills training. Late in the last decade, the conversation began regarding the future of leadership development and the growing leadership gap, due to the lack of executive training below the upper tiers of management. A new normal, where leadership skills are taught at every level of the organization, was the proposed solution to the crisis. This solution didn’t gain much momentum pre-pandemic, but the disruption of the past few years has brought it to the forefront. Enter talent and organizational development.
Business is currently navigating not only societal, financial, climate, and war-time insecurities, but a confluence of internal factors. Leaders are faced with fallout from the Great Resignation (which included an executive exodus); stakeholder demands for accountable culture; evolving trends in people-centric management; and the flattening of corporate hierarchy. C-suites are now looking specifically to organizational and talent development as the driving forces in a new era of leadership development, as they are the teams best equipped to traverse this era of upheaval and create a blueprint for the future.
Fostering leadership within each employee is now a priority in organizational development and talent development teams
Leadership is not a position, it’s a behavior. Leading from every level is another trend that predates the pandemic but grew exponentially in its wake. Remote work environments and the great resignation created opportunities for leaders to step up and handle challenges as they arose. These were opportunities born of necessity, but in the post-pandemic landscape, businesses are continuing to embrace these new leadership practices.
Great leaders of people empower leadership from all levels of an organization. It is an act of humility, confidence, and grace to relinquish control. It is also much more than just letting go of the reins and allowing an employee free for all. Organizations that support leadership from every level must:
- Empower employees to take initiative.
- Give agency to employees via clear objectives and directives.
- Raise morale with their employees through their leadership example. Leaders cast a shadow and it is important to understand how it is perceived.
- Support managers to feel confident in their roles and further empower employees, in turn.
The executive suite is now looking to organizational and talent development teams to ensure that employees have the tools to take on leadership from any and every level of the business. Talent development is fostering empowerment through skills development, promoting learning options that can help employees engage their passions, and ensuring that every employee has the capacity to lead from every level and grow. Organizational development ensures that the culture is empowered through the fostering of support mechanisms such as diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging (DEI&B); corporate philanthropy; environmental, social, and governance (ESG); and the creation of safe mental spaces for authenticity, transparency, and inclusivity.
Adaptive leadership in times of disruption and growth
What kind of leaders should organizational and talent teams be fostering for this new era? Businesses are taking this moment to evaluate lessons-learned and embrace new leadership practices — finding a growth mindset is essential at the individual employee level and enterprise level. Adaptive leadership, mentioned earlier, is one example of a growth mindset model. It has been a framework since 1994 and widely implemented in times of disruption. It is defined as “the ability to anticipate future needs, articulate those needs to build collective support and understanding, adapt your responses based on continuous learning, and demonstrate accountability through transparency in your decision-making process.”
While in graduate school in 2015-2016, I was trained in adaptive leadership by Professor Ronald Heifetz and, since, have practiced this method in all areas of my life, professionally and personally. I have come to understand that to be in a growth mindset and to be an adaptive leader, I must be an effective listener, open minded, agile, and empathetic. I further need to always position myself, and support other stakeholders, within the context of the work; and be willing to regularly self-correct and redirect as work evolves. Adaptive leaders go beyond technical management: a.k.a. the established fixes for straight-forward challenges with quick implementation processes. Adaptive leaders are prepared to address the complex, business-altering challenges that “require a collective effort and a cultural shift in values, beliefs, attitudes and approaches.” Adaptive leaders foster leadership behaviors within all stakeholders, empowering leadership at all levels of the organization.
The Great Place To Work’s (GPTW) For All Leadership model, is newer and leverages many of the same principles and values as adaptive leadership. It also has evolved for the workplace and has measurable outcomes. GPTW defines a For All Leader as “someone who looks to employees across the company for the next great idea; who leads with values first, especially in the face of adversity. One who builds connectivity within and across teams; who can help inspire a sense of purpose and pride in employees; who elevates employees to achieve all they ever thought they were capable of, and then some.”
The Great Place To Work “high trust behaviors” for Leaders are:
Importance of organizational and talent development
The importance of organizational and talent development teams to leadership in particular, is only going to grow. The disruption of the past few years is far from over. Even if we are post-pandemic, the societal disruptions, financial uncertainties, and climate impacts are likely to mount in the coming decades.
Another factor is the breakneck speed at which artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing (look at the capabilities leap between ChatGPT 1 to 4 in the last five months). Businesses will need to be ever evolving to keep up. Executives will have to lean on their “adapt-titions,” problem solvers and teachers — a.k.a. their organizational and talent development teams— to stay afloat and thrive in this maelstrom of change. Teams will also need to be “upskilling” themselves to stay ahead of the curve. This is the moment when business needs organizational and talent development to help lead them into the future.
Is disruption a catalyst for change?
There is a widely held belief that an era of great disruption is a catalyst for change. There has been no greater disruption to business in recent memory than the pandemic mixed with financial, climate, and war-time insecurities. Great leaders have embraced this opportunity to usher in a new era of leadership. This is the time to lean into failures and mistakes (past and present), to build resiliency, and correct course for the future. The great leaders of this moment are turning to organizational and talent development to utilize to help create the next generation of great leadership.
The biggest threat to people isn’t machines thinking and behaving like humans, it’s humans thinking and behaving like machines. Download insights from the “For All Summit” focus session: Leading through Uncertainty – Leading Through an Evolving Workforce, Automation, and Recession.
Watch UKG leaders Chief Executive Officer Chris Todd and Chief People Officer Pat Wadors discuss how they are "Leading Through Change," part of the UKG Workplace Realities monthly LinkedIn webinars.
Bonus content: How to be the leader of today and for the future
- Be transparent, honest, and authentic.
- Lean into your failures and own your actions and mistakes.
- Embrace growth mindset and avoid fixed mindset.
- Create safe mental spaces for all.
- Believe in yourself and your team.
- Be a coach/mentor.
- Cultivate emotional intelligence – empathy for others and understanding of self.
- Support organizational justice – how employees perceive fairness in the workplace.
- Foster individual development – encourage growth, innovation and creativity.
- Exhibit character – be open to change, feedback/criticism, and embrace diversity and uniqueness.
- Engage in win-win problem solving.