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Jenny Straumers


Lead Consultant

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The eight core capabilities that future leaders need


It’s difficult to plan for future leadership roles when we don’t know what the future holds. Jenny Straumers from Cirrus offers some advice.

The future is uncertain and unpredictable. Organisations everywhere face the challenge of planning for future leadership roles, even though we’re not actually sure what many of those roles will look like.

Digital disruption, environmental change, economic uncertainty and other factors are significantly changing the way we work.

Future leaders need to be comfortable with this degree of uncertainty. They need to know how to navigate without a map. They also need the ability to make sense of complex information and to identify and prioritise key areas of focus.

Today’s organisations need to find and prepare future leaders for multiple eventualities.

The human touch in a digital age

In our digital age, it is the uniquely human capabilities that will help to set organisations apart and enable leaders to perform in as yet unknown roles.

Agility, collaboration, innovation and creativity are becoming increasingly important. These attributes help leaders to seize new opportunities, whatever they may be.

Engaging and motivating people across complex organisational structures is also important in order to deliver results. Tomorrow’s ‘super leaders’ will also be focused on growing and nurturing talent to be ready for the future.

What should you look for in your future leaders?

Cirrus has carried out a great deal of research into the leadership and talent challenges of our digital era. From this, we have identified the eight core capabilities that every successful future leader needs:

  • Sharp: sees the way forward

  • Focused: stays on course

  • Authentic: stays true to who they are

  • Enabler: sealises the full potential

  • Connected: builds bridges not walls

  • Energiser: wins hearts as well as minds

  • Achiever: always delivers the impact

  • Pioneer: ventures in new directions

The importance of potential

It is important to know how leaders measure up against the above factors, but it won’t provide the full picture.

You’ll also need to consider future potential for leadership, such as measures of aspiration and key drivers. What actually gets your leaders out of bed in the morning?

You can also add measures of cognitive stretch, capacity for learning and emotional agility. To be successful in the future, leaders must demonstrate the ability to move from the task or the ‘here and now’, to lift their head over the parapet, and take a much broader view.

Finding future leaders shouldn’t be just an HR initiative. Engage the business in driving it.

Also important are a desire to learn and draw on insight, an understanding of others or emotional intelligence.

This will provide a more accurate view of someone with true potential who can evolve together with your organisation and respond to the world around them in the best way.

What stops us from uncovering future talent?

Finding future talent from within your own organisation can be difficult. Typical challenges include:

  • Lack of internal data

  • Inconsistent view of talent across the organisation

  • Low perceived value

  • Line manager engagement

  • Budget constraints

  • Time and capability constraints

How do you measure leadership capabilities?

The best way to overcome these challenges and to find your talent is to combine internal and external methodologies.

Internally, it’s about getting the right system in place with clearly defined measures of performance and potential. You need to be clear on what you are looking for – what does future talent look like in your organisation and why?

This will help shape your measures. While there’ll be some universal elements that leaders will need going forward, don’t forget that some of these can be unique to your sector or industry.

Engage colleagues across the business

Finding future leaders shouldn’t be just an HR initiative. Engage the business in driving it. Provide clear guidance to line managers so they know what to look for and how. Ensure that you can gather robust data through talent and performance reviews. Validate with external assessment.

Not many organisations are using effective assessment to make promotion decisions in line with future needs. Providing your line managers with well-articulated tools and measures is one simple way to help identify future leaders.

The interaction between performance and potential is complex and it’s important to take a holistic view of individuals.

Reliable and valid assessment measures, combined with other elements such as job rotation, secondments, and inside-outside experiences, can form part of a holistic future talent strategy.

This will ensure you can identify and nurture leaders able to build a more agile, future-proof organisation.

The importance of external validation

It’s important to rely on reliable and valid measures. There are many different psychometrics tools around and choosing the right ones for your need is crucial.

Don’t expect that you’ll find the holy grail from an off-the-shelf or online product only.

The interaction between performance and potential is complex and it’s important to take a holistic view of individuals. Assessment should allow for a rounded view and triangulation of data.

Make it a positive experience

Don’t forget the importance of the participant experience. Ideally, you want to ensure your talent is engaged while you work with them to identify future leaders.

You can also use the data you collect to drive other initiatives, such as personal development. This can help ensure that your search for future leaders benefits not only your organisation, but also the individuals involved.

Looking for more content on upskilling and developing leaders? Explore our Modern Leadership hub filled with expert opinions, insight and advice.

Author Profile Picture
Jenny Straumers

Lead Consultant

Read more from Jenny Straumers

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