Why do leaders and professionals need to develop their capabilities?

Sai Kumar Chandran

“Learning is not a one-time event or a periodic luxury. Great leaders in great companies recognize that the ability to constantly learn, innovate, and improve is vital to their success.” – Amy Edmondson in Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy
Formal and informal learning can lead to insights; and it is through insights that a person can make wise decisions, well in time. It is also known to champions from sports to politics to corporations that Wisdom and Decision Making are two pillars of growth. Hence, any human being, must recognize and be responsible for their learning. This is the only way to be responsible for our growth. When Charles Darwin coined the term ‘Survival of the Fittest’ then too, he was hinting at those species which learn and grow, hence survive. Similarly, pick-up scriptures, or pick-up research: both will tell you the same. In fact, now Neuroplasticity research has shown evidence that our brain has an unlimited capacity for growth.

So, in a nutshell, we all have the capacity to learn and develop ourselves.
“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” – Peter Drucker, American management consultant, educator and author

And much in line with what Peter Drucker said, most of us do not really know how to learn, and hence grow.

So, an immediate benefit for any of us, if we were to develop ourselves is: we will learn, how to learn. Without this, there is no chance that we will learn. So, the first answer for: “Why do leaders and professionals need to develop their capabilities?” is so we can learn, how to learn. Because, when we set out to develop ourselves, we have to solve several challenges to change ourselves; we learn, how we learn best and change best. If this is consciously internalized, we keep sharpening our learning capacity. You may need to read this a few times to internalize. Such is the nature of learning to learn.

Whether you are a professional as a part of an organization or an independent consultant or a business owner:

  • You are required to make decisions,
  • Take actions,
  • And get things done every day.

This really doesn’t need explanation and what also doesn’t need explanation is that with better capability, we are able to make timely decisions of higher quality.
If we see the way the business world has been changing over the last 30 to 40 years, there has been a significant acceleration of technology and its applications, a significant acceleration of challenging business environments, higher complexities in our social environment and many movements across geographies which have made it even more complex to do business. Now in this kind of world, the need to develop our capabilities becomes even more significant.
Look at some of this data published by Deloitte a few years back, on how the impact of an organization and leader’s work is judged:

Here are a few things that we can understand from this information:

  • Business performance is no more just about making money
  • Social impact, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction are more than critical now
  • Hence, leaders must improve the condition of society, communities and employees

Several other such studies are now challenging the established approaches of the capitalistic system we all are a part of. From Davos Economic Forum to Paris Climate accord to UN Sustainable Development Goals – there are many Global declarations too now that ratify the need for changing the way we operate.
In this light of such macro and micro need for a change in the way we have been doing business is the next answer. So, the second answer for: “Why do leaders and professionals need to develop their capabilities?” is so we can become agile to deal with a complex business and social environment. And this agility is required from everyone in three forms:
1. Strategic Agility
2. Change Agility
3. Collaborative Agility

It is only through these 3 agilities that we can respond to an ever-complex world around us. But to develop these three agilities – we have to learn how to learn. This completes the answers to the question posed in the title of this article.

Now for some details on each of the agilities…

Strategic Agility:  
It always made sense for anything that we do to have an intent or purpose, a direction, and a possible outcome of interest that will eventually shape the way things are. In very simple terms this is what it means to be strategic.

There was a time when strategy and strategic horizons were viewed over decades. However, in recent times with the accelerations of humankind’s desire to progress faster and to a great extent the greed to have more, we have significantly shortened the time in which we expect things to happen. All of this has translated to hypercompetition and hyperactivity when it comes to any commercial space or sector or agency. Even governments have become more competitive than before. So, unless we are in an industry or an area of work where the laws of nature keep controlling us and slowing us down, the commercial world is largely inclined today to try and do things in years, if they were taking decades earlier and similarly try and do something in months if something took years to build. Even in areas like agriculture where the laws of nature had significant control, humankind with its technological interventions is trying to shorten crop cycles, increase yield and so many other such things.

In such a world, in the times that we live in, Strategic Agility is:

  1. The ability to evaluate and maximize the outcomes using the current capabilities.
  2. The ability to vision and make time & space for building future capabilities.
  3. Ensuring the deployment of capabilities in a way that makes: Commercial, Reputational, Environmental, Social and Organizational Sense. And finally, the ability to have a diverse set of viable actions, in each of the above running parallels, and converging to the intended future.
  4. Elimination of any pursuits that are not of strategic value, even if there is vintage attached to it.
  5. Being open to sharing and building communities, to accelerate the common good.

Change Agility: 
Having understood Strategic Agility, it becomes easy to understand Change Agility. Any strategic objective requires a change at some level. The traditional approach to planned change still works when it comes to mass change. However, in the complex times that we live in there needs to be agility and a certain sense of Leadership brought to driving change to achieve strategic objectives.

In the earlier article Change Leadership – Science and Art for Strategic, Cultural and Leadership Excellence published in this magazine I have delved on this in some detail. One of the key calls outs that I had made was that Change Leadership is about bringing to the table original, purposeful and futuristic thought to drive the change required in our organizations or institutions. Having understood Strategic Agility – we know where the origin of such thought will be. However, such strategic thought needs to translate into a design of how we and the organization need to change.

Here is what leaders with Change Agility do differently:

  1. They use their Strategic Agility to develop a deep understanding of factors that will impact business and think through the changes that will be needed in the near future.
  2. They float between thinking & actions around short-term problem solving, preparation for medium-term improvements and crafting long-term transformation paths for the organization.
  3. They calibrate the utility of actions with the Strategic Objectives and develop the environment to create enhanced outcomes.
  4. They drive change around the whole organizational system while tackling all operational and tactical stages and noise.
  5. And deliver impactful outcomes inside and outside the organization, consistently.
  6. While doing all this – they minimize, if not eliminate the need for reactive change. They also prevent any change from being treated like a project.

Collaborative Agility:
Almost nothing in today’s complex environments can be done by a person or function or even organization in isolation or alone. Collaboration inside the organization and Partnerships from outside the organization are required today to manage:

  • Subject Matter
  • Technology
  • People
  • Innovation
  • Compliance
  • Supply chain
  • Distribution
  • Customers
  • And many other aspects of business

Collaboration and partnerships not only keep the organization lean but also aid speed and effectiveness. Since no one can have or develop all capabilities in today’s world, such bolt-on and co-creative formulas are the only ways to succeed.

Leaders with Collaborative Agility focus on:

  1. Finding areas where it is better to partner with others to get things done.
  2. Rapidly evolving an understanding of how to make the given partnerships work.
  3. If required, building multiple partnerships on a core central point, rather than just one partnership to accelerate results. Hey also gain multiple perspectives with such an approach.
  4. Enabling partnerships to be an inclusive melting pot of ideas, actions, closures, and improvements.
  5. Extending partnerships over several cycles to create better and additional outcomes.
  6. Lastly, ensuring partnerships are respected long after the agenda is achieved. Similarly, potential partners are respected long before even attempting a partnership. They keep the realization that swift Strategic Changes require some old and some new partners. Hence, having a pool of possible partners is always available.

Together the three agilities, are what a Leader should seek primarily from enhancing their capability.
To conclude then… hope you take the time to develop yourself, so you can ‘Learn to Learn’ and ‘Develop Strategic, Change and Collaborative Agility’. 

Sai Kumar Chandran is the founder of OrbitShift. He is a coaching and consulting practitioner and an entrepreneur at heart. He can be reached at saikumarchandran@orbitshift.com.

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