Organisations need to invest in the development of their leaders to build and sustain competitive advantage in the fast-paced environment of the 21st century. Well-nurtured and empowered leaders help create vibrant teams of achievers who are capable of accomplishing organisational goals in spite of gusty headwinds.
While some of the public and private sector enterprises have institutionalised mechanisms to train their leaders, the majority pays scant regard to this vital requirement. Creating and preserving a culture of learning, where professional growth and excellence are consistently encouraged and rewarded, is fundamental to the success of any enterprise. Organisations which have ignored this function have stagnated, and some of them have gone into a downward spiral.
The Army's culture accords topmost priority to the development of its leaders. It is undertaken through a progressive and purposeful process that not only transforms civilians joining the organisation into competent leaders but also empowers them to fulfil their roles and obligations as they rise to shoulder greater responsibilities. To empower leaders with contemporary skills sets, the process also draws upon best practices from various other fields of human endeavour. Moreover, as large numbers of army personnel are deployed overseas for the United Nations' peacekeeping operations, global leadership requirements are also factored into the training regimen. Cultural awareness and respect for customs, traditions and sensitivities of the host country coupled with humility, cordial and affable demeanour help enhance mutual understanding and build enduring relationships. Companies with global footprint should be mindful of this requirement.
Great strategic leaders always remain committed to leadership development as they realise full well that no matter how comprehensive their winning strategy is, it has to be ultimately implemented by subordinate leaders. Unless these subordinate leaders are empowered to attain various objectives which will collectively contribute to accomplishing the mission, the strategy will only remain stored in the hard drives of computers. Therefore, to achieve their vision and mission, they diligently shape and sustain a culture of learning where leaders are accountable, seek self-improvement and are genuinely involved in improving others. To start this process in earnest, they evolve the directives, doctrines, policies and guidelines through a collaborative process that leverages group intelligence and develops ownership of the initiative.
As time is always at a premium, the leadership development process should be goal-oriented and designed to meet the unique requirements of the organisation. Broadly, it should focus on widening and deepening the knowledge base of leaders and improving their mental and emotional attributes along with sharpening and augmenting their technical, conceptual and interpersonal skills. To be effective in an ever-changing environment marked by high levels of uncertainty, complexity, volatility and ambiguity, leaders have to be creative, innovative, adaptable, agile, versatile, strong-willed and appropriately skilled. Furthermore, to ensure an environment of trust, leaders should be made to practise and live organisational values until they are fully imbibed and start governing their behaviour. Trust helps build constructive relationships of mutual pride, concern and loyalty, which are vital for group cohesion and success.
Maximum emphasis should be given to on-the-job development. Leaders and homegrown experts should take pains to improve their teammates by teaching, coaching, mentoring and growth counselling. For boosting self-confidence, leaders should be encouraged to take the initiative. However, should things go wrong, senior leaders should display supportive and empathetic attitude. Intemperate behaviour and public chiding generate negativity that erodes trust. To tap creativity and obtain innovative ideas besides eliciting constructive critique, brainstorming and idea-showering sessions should also be organised. For optimal gains, participants should be encouraged to flex their ideational muscles without any inhibition.
These sessions should be organised on a fortnightly basis in respective branches or, as and when necessary, to solve complex problems and manage risk through collective wisdom. Moreover, quarterly sessions with available leaders and members of the organisation should be held for SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis and identifying measures to exploit strengths and deal with vulnerabilities. The company's leadership should invariably conduct these sessions. However, for value addition, eminent speakers on leadership, management and strategy should be invited from time to time for these quarterly sessions.
Selected leaders should be made to attend seminars and short training courses at some of the reputed management institutions and even be encouraged to take part in television discussions on allied topics. As a norm, a post-event report highlighting the aspects which could be examined for updating the company's best practices should be obtained. In addition, regular reviews of relevant books and articles followed by discussions also help in tapping and generating creative and innovative ideas. Outsourcing the training should be avoided as it stifles the holistic growth of leaders and willy-nilly, undermines their prowess.
While diligently empowering their leaders, strategic leaders should also strive for self-improvement. They must never get carried away by the thought that they are the 'know-alls'. Notwithstanding their success and elevated positions, they must continue to pursue excellence with discernible humility. Stephen Hawking, the internationally acclaimed physicist, had aptly stated that "the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge". To remain relevant, strategic leaders should focus on developing their intellectual sophistication and frames of reference besides achieving mastery over strategic art. This would hone their strategic skills to envision the future, evolve winning strategies and effectively lead change. Strategic leaders should be the standard-bearers of their organisation's brand and its learning culture.
The writer is former Chief of the Indian Army and now sits on a company's board