It is a fact that bears repeating. Leaders need to be present in the organisations they lead.
In a literal sense, they should be physically and visibly present in the offices of their business as often as possible.
This helps establish a bond with employees and breaks down the divide between “leader” and “led”. And in a broader sense, they need to be ready and able to take leadership actions when the present demands it. They need to make the tough decisions and need to act quickly when opportunities appear.
As much as they need to be effective in the present, CEOs also spend a lot of time thinking about the future.
Large chunks of their days will be filled with hearing forecasts, discussing emerging trends, and honing long-term strategies.
Leaders are required to not only understand exactly what is going on in their own business and market right this minute, they are also required to have a sound understanding of what might be going on in five, 10, and even 20 years down the line.
Leaders are not doing this by guesswork, of course. They are taking advice; they are studying the data; they are relying on their years of experience and education. Nevertheless, they must strike a constant balance between today’s “big picture”, and how that big picture will be rendered in the years to come.
Possibly, the biggest mental leap of all is to envision the future and comprehend the leadership talent that will be needed to keep growth on an upward trend.
Having a robust pipeline of leadership talent is every organisation’s aim, and also a considerable organisational challenge. It requires a best guess on what the business and its markets will look like, and it asks that you clearly define and identify the leadership talents that best meet those future needs.
Even for leaders fixated on the future, that is a considerable mental leap.
And as a leader, you must also overcome the tendency to simply envision yourself in the role. We’d all like to think we could continue doing something we love and are good at indefinitely, so we may well struggle to see beyond our own role in handling the future challenges that we foresee.
It isn’t necessarily arrogant to assume you might be best placed to take on this role. Indeed, you may well have the unique set of talents, experience, and understanding of the business to do it. But it is evidently an unrealistic proposition, given enough time.
The natural consequence of this tendency is that a leader might instead seek to develop future leaders in their own mould. It’s a logical progression — if you believe you alone can handle a future set of challenges, it makes sense to base your search for future talent on a mirror held up to your own strengths.
Leaders who do this will try to ensure leadership development schemes seek out traits that they believe they have themselves — whether that’s charisma, strategic excellence, or a laser-focus on the important details.
The leaders that such an approach might produce could well be extraordinarily competent, and they may produce impressive results in whatever role they take up.
But in prioritising the development of an established skill set — your own — you are also potentially falling victim to a blind spot we all have to some degree. None of us really consider the moment of our own obsolescence — the point at which our skills and abilities are no longer those best equipped for the job.
And the effect of that blind spot here is you potentially develop leaders who aren’t truly equipped for the challenges the future holds.
So what’s to be done? Well, developing future leaders should certainly involve a leader’s input. They are exceedingly well-positioned to explain the challenges the present and immediate future holds for a leader of the company.
But the leader must also be prepared to release their grip on the reins, and allow a discussion about leadership development that priorities what the business and the future will need from its executives.
That way, a broader view of potentially valuable traits can be established, and the business can truly hone a leadership pipeline that fits their future requirements.
Ahmad Badr is CEO of Knowledge Group.