The Future of Leadership Development and Executive Coaching

29 April 2024
By Prof Sattar Bawany
CEO, Disruptive Leadership Institute LLC, New York
Professor of Practice in Disruptive Leadership and Digital Transformation, EIU – Paris

1. What are the New Realities of Leadership?

The world is facing significant disruption and increasingly urgent global challenges affecting individuals, families, organizations, governments, and society. This volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA)-driven age of disruption brings new complexities, opportunities, as well as risks for businesses. The potential for crises has intensified, driven by rapid technological change, and amplified by societal expectations linked to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) phenomena (Bawany 2023).

Today’s highly disruptive and digital-driven world of work requires a new leadership model with a different class of leaders known as “” who demonstrate a set of behavioral attributes and competencies to successfully navigate the challenges in the implementation of transformative change at the workplace.

Today, there is a sense of urgency for organizations today to accelerate the effort to build the competence of their leadership bench strength, and this compounds the challenge of building a strong leadership pipeline.

Digital transformation (DT/DX) is the key to business competitiveness in a changing and increasingly demanding market. However, for this transformation to be successful, the right corporate culture is needed to promote innovation and creativity within companies.

2. What are the competencies for leading successfully in a digital-driven workplace? 

Leadership 4.0 is about the development of “disruptive digital leaders” who can build teams, keep them engaged, and drive a culture of innovation, risk tolerance, and resilience at the workplace.

Leading in an era of constant disruption and times of crises would require a distinct set of competencies and these include, but are not limited to, a combination of variables such as (See Figure 1):

  1. Disruptive Mentality (Innovation-driven and Experimentation)
  2. Visionary and Entrepreneurial Skills (Creativity)
  3. Cognitive Readiness and Critical Thinking (Mental Agility)
  4. Resilience, Adaptability and Emotional Resilience (Change Agility)
  5. Empathy and Social skills (People Agility)
  6. Driving for Success (Results Agility)
For a detailed description of the “Disruptive Leadership Competencies” visit here.

3. What are the mega-disruptors that can be expected in the coming decades?

We live in a constant era of disruption in which powerful global forces are changing how we live and work. The new world order is leading to growing challenges to globalization, geopolitical tensions, the rapid spread of new disruptive innovation, shifts in demographic forces, and the challenge of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. These megatrends of future disruptions (see Figure 2) offer considerable new opportunities to companies, sectors, countries, and individuals that embrace them successfully. They are bringing forth dynamic and innovative new players on the world stage and could give a much-needed boost to productivity and prosperity in many countries.

For a detailed description of the “Megatrends of Future Disruptions” visit here.

The way we work has been through a fundamental transformation impacted by automation and artificial intelligence (AI) which is replacing human tasks and jobs, and changing the skills that organizations are looking for in their people. These momentous changes raise huge organizational, talent, and HR challenges – at a time when business leaders are already wrestling with unprecedented risks, disruption, and political and societal upheaval.

What this means is that the pace of change is accelerating and the competition for the right leaders with the right skill sets for the future is fierce. The definition of effective leadership and talent has changed over the past 20 years with many of the roles, skills, and job titles of tomorrow unknown to us today. 

How can organizations and leaders prepare for a future that few of us can define? What does future leadership look like and what are the transformative skills required?

4. Why developing leaders of the future in an era of constant crisis and disruption is critical?

Today’s global disruptions (e.g., geopolitical tensions, supply chain bottlenecks, technological innovations, and climate change) and economic headwinds (e.g., soaring inflation, rising interest rates, decelerating growth, and currency fluctuations) have created a complex, once-in-ageneration, competitive environment with significant variations across geographic areas and sectors.

Navigating this unprecedented complexity requires business leaders to develop a dynamic perspective not only on the most likely scenarios for how their operating and economic environments will evolve but also on the distinct opportunities and risks these scenarios present for their organizations.

To achieve organizational high performance in an era of constant disruption and crisis, both agility and resilience are important.

Agility refers to the ability to make a rapid change and achieve flexibility in various aspects of the operations, in response to changes or disruptive events in the external environment. It can also be viewed as the capacity for responding with speed and flexibly and decisively toward anticipating, initiating, taking advantage of opportunities, and avoiding any negative consequences of change.

Resilience refers to the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and recover from disasters, emergencies, and other disruptions, and protect and enhance workforce and customer engagement, supply network and financial performance, organizational productivity, and community well-being when disruption occurs.

5. What are the crucial leadership skills of the future?

Organizations must be prepared for future disruptions which would evolve into crises if they were not prepared and that place importance on resilience now, only to let it become an afterthought later, will do so at their peril. The COVID-19 pandemic, with all its indirect impacts, is the most immediate critical event organizations have faced so far in this decade, but it is hardly the only one. ere will be other potential forces that are creating new and constant waves of disruption—creating both opportunities and risks (Bawany 2023).

In 2023, a landmark global research by the Centre for Executive Education (CEE) and the Disruptive Leadership Institute (DLI) was published in the book Leadership in Disruptive Times: Negotiating a New Balance (Business Expert Press, LLC, New York).

The said research involved interviews of 529 C-Suite executives (CEOs and their direct reports) from best-in-class organizations including those in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific revealed that their leaders have successfully navigated the disruptive challenges and took concrete steps to dramatically improve their capacity to anticipate, respond to, and capitalize on the disruptive forces heading their way.  As a result, the L.E.A.DE.R.” Framework (see Figure 3) was developed to assist organizations in preparing for the era of constant disruption and crises ahead that could threaten the organization’s sustainability. 

For a detailed outline of the “L.E.A.D.E.R.” Framework, visit here.

6. How do disruptive leadership masterclasses and executive coaching support the development of leaders of the future?

a) Disruptive Leadership Masterclasses

Each of the disruptive leadership masterclasses is designed for participants to benefit from elements of the “C.P.R.” framework:

  1. Contemporary – leveraging on latest concepts on leadership development for the diverse multigenerational workplace.
  2. Practical – explore examples and experience using tools concerning leading and engaging a diverse workforce with expert guidance as well as learning a concept, process, or tool that will be transferable immediately to their workplace.
  3. Relevant – to the participants’ role as a manager and being able to connect the program to their organizational context.

Participants will have an opportunity to be involved in an Action Learning-based Workplace Project to get their organization and business working at full productivity leveraging on the tools and approaches introduced during the program.

Apart from the Action Learning Workplace Project, participants will have ongoing access to the expert facilitator and thought leader in leadership development. They will also immerse themselves in real-world learning where lessons are brought to life through Harvard Business School (or equivalent) cases of organizations, which puts them in the shoes of global leaders. b) Executive Coaching Support

Executive coaching is a concept that has moved from the world of sports to the executive suite and is designed to help senior executives manage a constantly changing business environment and refine their leadership skills. However, coaching is not limited to senior levels. Increasingly, people all over the world, at all levels, utilize executive coaches to help them achieve their full potential. e process focuses on the participant’s goals, reinforces learning and change, and increases selfempowerment (Bawany 2023).

Executive coaching focuses on developing a top executive’s full potential by coaching them to think and act beyond existing limits and paradigms. Executive coaching is a highly individualized form of leadership development and support available. It is based on the understanding that to be maximally effective, executives must accurately identify their strengths and areas of development, examine the impact of their behavior on others, and regularly and intentionally reflect on their values, goals, and effectiveness.

Leveraging on artificial intelligence (AI)

Digital and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way executive coaching is deployed within organizations. The potential for digital platforms and AI to underpin and grow the world of work is unbounded. AI has become a hot topic, dominating discussions on the future of different professions, including executive coaching. While it is natural for organizations and executive coaches to speculate about AI’s impact, the current existence of virtual coaching tools indicates that some level of automation is already available. 

In 2023, OpenAI released ChatGPT and brought AI into mainstream conversation although for a fact we know that AI has been part of the technology vernacular for decades. ChatGPT changed the story and made it mainstream. Specifically, what has happened was the introduction of Generative AI to the mass market. Now, for the first time, anyone can ‘talk to the machine’. A pandora’s box has been opened and we’re never going back  (Bawany 2023).

But as senior executives and business professionals’ lives get busier, and work continually becomes more demanding and complicated, traditional coaching methods might not suffice. To continue making a sustainable impact, coaching professionals may want to consider incorporating technological advancements like chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI). By using natural language processing and machine learning algorithms, chatbots can understand and respond to human requests. This allows them to conduct tasks that were usually completed by people and helps transform how content is delivered.

Highly effective and successful executive coaches, who go deep in their craft, get to know their clients, and are there to help in a variety of ways, aren’t going away. AI is in its infancy, and it will be able to do things we can’t currently fathom, but there are times you want a human touch, and that’s what a coach is for. Well, that’s what a good coach is for. Seasoned executive coaches are already using AI to make their clients better and to alleviate some of the manual/repetitive work. This will only make them better at their craft and allow them to spend more time leaning into their clients.

Some coaches have enjoyed ‘phoning it in’ for a long time. They deliver templated workouts without personalization. They’ll answer a call when needed but mostly they run on autopilot. These coaches will either be invigorated by AI and learn how to use this new tool in their practice, or they will hold on to the way things have been done, and over time their business will be threatened. To be clear, this is not unique to coaching. In almost every industry, we will watch areas that have long been repetitive get taken over by people using AI to bring new life and efficiency to their business sector. Like many shifts, it will happen slowly, then all at once.

Though face-to-face coaching remains the norm, the truth is it can be expensive and inaccessible for some clients. AI-enabled coaching platforms offer a more flexible, convenient way to access coaching for anyone, especially those with limited mobility. As chatbots become increasingly sophisticated, clients can receive advice, resources, and guidance tailored to their specific challenges. Thus, AI has the potential to democratize coaching and make it accessible to a wider audience. Conclusion

Organizations worldwide invest heavily in executive education but often get a meager return on their investment. Research has shown that business schools and other traditional educators aren’t adept at teaching the soft skills vital for success today, people don’t always stay with the organizations that have paid for their training, and learners often can’t apply classroom lessons to their jobs. 

The way forward would be incorporating the instructional design and development with best-in-class tools, models, and frameworks in online courses, interactive platforms, and digital tools from both legacy providers and upstarts (see Figure 4). The disruptive leadership masterclasses supported by executive coaching are transforming leadership development by making it easy and affordable to get personalized, socialized, contextualized, and trackable learning experiences.

Enabling growth today in an era of constant disruptions and crises would require a deliberate focus on building agility and sustainability into the design of the organization while ensuring that future leaders are transformed and developed through executive coaching to meet strategic business objectives and goals (Bawany 2023).

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