Developing The Next Generation Of Smarter Leaders

MANILA, Philippines - The topic of leadership weighs heavily on the minds of top corporate executives. That is not surprising given the structural changes we have seen in the economy and the increasingly global and virtual nature of the workplace.

However, the ability of today's leaders to engage the hearts and minds of people around the globe has proven difficult-especially in emerging economies like the Philippines, where plentiful job opportunities and rising wage rates make it difficult to hold on to the best employees.

In 2010, an IBM study of 1,500 CEOs found that leadership will be the most important organizational priority over the next five years. Yet organizations are telling us that developing the next generation of leaders remains a weak spot. That's not an isolated problem. In another IBM study of 700 HR executives from around the globe, only 31 percent said they were effective in developing future leaders. As one senior executive admitted, "We have hired and trained people to work in silos. We need to identify future leaders who can operate in a globally integrated company, and train them to think and work globally."

What can organizations do to develop the next generation of smarter leaders? IBM's research and experience points to three areas:

Look beyond headquarters. Rising stars can emerge from anywhere, so it's important to identify and cultivate rising stars regardless of location. Create programs that provide your emerging leaders with enriching experiences, and be sure to connect them with mentors who can give them the right guidance and global perspective.

One approach is to bring together teams from different parts of the business to solve real-world problems, such as evaluating new markets or responding to changing demographics. You could even offer short-term, focused opportunities to work in new markets or geographies; exposing people to new experiences without the time and costs associated with long-term expatriate programs.

For example, at IBM we have the Corporate Service Corp (CSC), which provides top performers the chance to work in an emerging economy on a service-related project for two to three months. Participants quickly become immersed in the local environment and work with governments, NGOs and local businesses to solve difficult problems such as helping local artisans in Ghana develop a global online business.

In fact, IBM CSC first visited the Philippines in 2008 and since then has deployed 11 teams of rising stars, to help solve complex problems in emerging markets across the nation. On the other hand, nine top performing IBMers from the Philippines have qualified and participated in the CSC program. They were deployed in other emerging economies that include Africa, Brazil, Morocco, India, Indonesia and Kazakhstan.

Develop creativity. Look for opportunities to spur creative approaches to leadership. You may want to try new ways to invite, persuade and influence your employees to participate in decision-making, using social media and other innovative communication channels. Be sure to think outside the firewall: it's important for emerging leaders to gain insights and develop relationships with key stakeholders outside your organization, such as customers, suppliers, academics and trade associations.

CEOs now realize that creativity is a very critical leadership characteristic. Creative leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and experimentation. To connect with and inspire a new generation, they lead and interact in entirely new ways and are not afraid to leverage on technology to drive positive change in their organization.

Treat leadership like an investment. Since there is no single solution to the contours of leadership development in your organization, make sure your approach reflects your particular geographical mix of future business locations, employees and customers. Track the career and skills development of your workforce and continuously assess the progress of employees with leadership potential.

Tapping into an organization's creativity, flexibility and speed requires leaders to solve old problems and capitalize on new possibilities. Focusing on developing the leaders of the future is an investment that organizations must make.

Mariels Almeda Winhoffer is the first female president and country general manager of IBM Philippines, which is celebrating its 75th year of enabling transformation through innovation this 2012.

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