Lessons from The Martian: Why Leadership Development Needs to Evolve

Is your organization prepared to meet the challenges of the future with an evolved and enhanced leadership perspective, or are you using the “same old, same old” mind-set and competency model?

Have you seen the film The Martian starring Matt Damon?  I have and it’s a nail-biter!  While watching all I could think about was leadership – an occupational hazard, I’ll admit - and how it was played out for better or worse by the characters.  Each encountered seeming impossible and inconceivable obstacles and how they chose to rise to the challenge disclosed both their internal character traits and constitution for leadership.  

This film raised a question for me.  How often do leaders in our organizations face seemingly impossible problems? And more importantly, how will leadership evolve in the 21st century to meet these extraordinary challenges?  

This reminded me of a client – a global pharmaceutical company - that was struggling with this exact issue. Although the organization had a long-term commitment to leader development, the leader competency model and leadership development program they were using had failed to deliver desired results.  Leaders coming through the program felt it did not meet their needs. In addition, program metrics, such as promotion rates and performance scores, were declining. Ongoing reorganization, divestiture, acquisition, changing employee demographics, and other real-time business challenges were derailing the organization’s good efforts and sizable investment in developing future leaders. 

What about you? Is your organization prepared to meet the challenges of the future with an evolved and enhanced leadership perspective, or are you using the “same old, same old” mind-set and competency model? 

The leadership ecosystem continues to evolve.

You may be thinking that leadership skills and capabilities are evergreen, regardless of context and circumstance. What’s to evolve?  Let me share my perspective.  What constitutes effective leadership has evolved drastically over the last 100 years and continues to do so, as the nature of work, employee demographics, and economic contexts change. In research conducted by Right Management, we’ve documented epic shifts in how our client organizations and their employees approach work. Organizations are demanding more from employees as macro pressures, such as increased competition, economic pressure, and complexity drive work necessities. At the same time, employees are demanding more as talent shortages increase their ability to dictate the terms of their employment. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Right Management the changing relationship between employer and employee was rated as the trend having the greatest impact on organizations in 2016.  

How is your organization doing in the midst of this leadership evolution?

A surprising finding emerged from Right Management’s upcoming research with global organizations and business academicians. Organizations are not doing well with this leadership ‘evolution’ – specifically, they are challenged to anticipate the ‘next’ iteration of effective leadership and its effect on employees and organizations. Most alarming is that organizations feel they are losing ground due to the inability to vision forward leadership and are falling back on outdated leadership models and methods. 

21st Century leader effectiveness – this time it is different! 

Let’s look at how the changing world of work is impacting organizations:

  • Rise of the portfolio employee.  How do you engage employees whose goal is to build a portfolio career and will change organizational loyalties as needed to advance their skills and experience?  Who may even work for multiple organizations simultaneously? How do leaders drive engagement in this transitory environment?
  • Teams are more sustainable than organizations. As teams – and particularly virtual teams - become a focal operating unit within the flux of organizational restructuring, how can leaders best manage team dynamics, cohesion, and continuity, as the organization constantly evolves around them? 
  • Transforming and maintaining workplace culture as a key element for engagement. As it becomes apparent that workplace culture is the “X Factor” for employee engagement and productivity, how can leaders impact this intangible force? How does a leader shape a culture that fosters agility, transversal cooperation, and passion for success?
Quite a list of leadership challenges and this is not exhaustive by any means! Along with the shadow of certain uncertainty, your leaders may also be stressed by:
Traditional models just won’t work anymore. 

Addressing these challenges requires a change – an evolution in what constitutes effective leadership.  

You may be wondering what action the global Pharma client took once they acknowledged the inadequacy of their leadership development model? They took a pragmatic look at current and future business demands and reworked their leader profile to reflect 21st century necessities. From this emerged a more relevant strategy that focused on identifying and developing capabilities in four key areas: to lead through complex work systems, to build virtual teams, to manage conflicting priorities, and to foster a culture of agility, resilience, and transformative employee engagement.

In my next blog, I’ll discuss what the next-level leader looks like and how building a relevant vision-forward leadership team can be achieved.
Related Articles:
Developing a Highly Successful Leadership Team 
10 Questions to Improve the Results of Your Global Leadership Development Program