By Carol Vallone Mitchell, Ph.D., Talent Strategy Partners LLC

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Leadership development seems to be top of mind for leaders in Human Resources. CHROs participating in the 2024 Philly SHRM Symposium say that the future is complex, and leaders need to navigate it using different skills than those required pre-pandemic. Is that really the case? Haven’t leaders been facing an increasingly complex environment for years?

The acronym VUCA arose from the concept discussed by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus in 1985 to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the world that impacts organizational leadership. Management thought leaders have been discussing ever since how VUCA requires a new set of leadership skills.

Yet, in actuality, the skills required to lead through complexity, through VUCA, are well established and they all revolve around a collaborative leadership model.  Leaders must foster connections across organizational silos, geographies, and remote-working teams to make decisions quickly, establish cross-functional collaboration, and facilitate cohesive teams. They need to build trust and stimulate engagement to hold those teams together.

Nonetheless, in many organizations, traditional directive leadership has been predominant, and their leaders do not necessarily have the skills to lead collaboratively. In fact, according to the Symposium CHRO panel, leaders overall are still under skilled at leading people, lacking essential emotional intelligence and empathy.

So it isn’t that leaders need different skills because of complexity. Rather, they need to be held accountable to demonstrate these skills. This is where HR comes in.

Leadership development is part of HR’s bailiwick. Have they let leaders off the hook? Where is the disconnect? Why is there a collaborative leadership skill gap? Is there an investment deficit in leadership development? How does leadership development need to look now – and how does that differ from commonplace practice? Have CHROs or CLOs advocated for more or different leadership development, but their executive teams haven’t listened or been convinced? What’s going on?

I spoke with a colleague who is the Chief Learning Officer at a global diversified technology company to discuss these questions. Having recently attended two national professional conferences on culture and leadership where she spoke with global talent and HR leaders, she thought the questions were “very much on point.”

To set the stage, first and foremost, she said HR people are burned out. Employees are hurting and traumatized by overwork, lack of support for working parents and caregivers, and job insecurity; and leaders outside of HR are compounding the problem with their inability to communicate and demonstrate empathy.

A frequent topic of conversation at the conferences was how to “make leaders more humane.” One CHRO said that their CEO didn’t know how to connect with people, they didn’t know how to communicate.  This isn’t too surprising, given an HBR spotlight series on executive education found that most programs underplay relational, communication and affective skills. Senior leaders recognizing the value of these skills feel such programs fall short.  One ray of light on the situation is that about 50% of CLOs at the conferences are updating their leadership models, incorporating words such as “humility” and “caring.”

Although my colleague confirmed that L&D budgets have been cut, she is optimistic that there will be a resurgence in funding. Importantly though, she has observed that a lot of CLOs and CHROs are not good at making the business case for investing in leadership development.

This is not an HR problem… is it? It seems that everyone has fingerprints on the issue. Some leaders have not held themselves or others accountable to be collaborative and empathetic; some haven’t learned how to lead this way or feel uncomfortable changing their style. HR leaders, in addition to effectively influencing their executive teams to beef up the budget, need to assess the effectiveness of their internal and external leadership development offerings for building the critical skills to lead collaboratively.

The Symposium’s CHRO panel offered us this pearl of wisdom for how we can influence our leadership teams and visibly provide value to the organization: Our role as HR professionals is “Dot Connector”, that is, “we see across the whole organization and connect the dots and reflect that back to the organization.” By reflecting back to our executive colleagues how our leadership programs are or are not fostering collaborative leadership, and engaging them in the conversation, we can demonstrate and model for them what collaboration looks like.

Do you agree or disagree with any aspects of this article? From your perspective, has HR let leaders off the hook with respect to Leadership Development? Have you observed a collaborative leadership skill gap? Have executive teams tamped advocacy for more or different leadership development? If you feel responding to these questions makes you vulnerable, please respond anonymously? Let us know at:

About the Author

Carol Vallone Mitchell Ph.D. In 2001, Carol co-founded Talent Strategy Partners LLC, a leadership development consultancy that helps companies maintain a robust leadership pipeline through succession planning and leadership development.

Carol’s leadership research led to authoring the books Collaboration Code: How Men Lead Culture Change and Nurture Tomorrow’s Leaders and Breaking Through “Bitch”: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly. She has written numerous articles for the Huffington Post and other publications including Chief Learning Officer, TD magazine, Forbes, WorldatWork Workspan, Thrive Global, Philadelphia Business Journal, and Fast Company.

Carol received her doctorate in Organizational Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania where she developed a behavioral profile of success for women leaders. Carol is chair of the Leadership Subgroup for Beacon, a premier executive networking organization. She is also a member of Philly SHRM’s Thought Leadership Team.

Contact Information: Carol Vallone Mitchell, Talent Strategy Partners LLC  http://www.tsphr.comcvmitchell@tsphr.com

Editor: Dennis Paris

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