Developing Leaders for Turbulent Times


Most business leaders will say that we are living in turbulent times and the pace of change has increased. The business environment is characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA)- disruptions from new technology and innovative ideas, and talent disruptions due to new required skills like Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Internet Of Things (IOT)/Machine Learning, shifts in globalization trends, drastic changes in business cycles, a multi-generational workforce, and more. The challenges faced by businesses in the 21st century just keep adding up.

In this background, one of the challenges that organizations face is how to develop leaders for turbulent times. This addresses several issues – how do we identify leaders with the right skills from the market? How do we develop leaders inside the organization, what leadership skills need to be developed, and what approaches will have the best impact? In spite of years of experience and available knowledge, leadership development continues to be a critical challenge and space of investment for organizations. A white paper presented by Oliver Wyman, Mercer and Marsh & McLennan, identifies the evolving leadership model as one of the top 5 challenges Human Resources face in 2020-25. So how can we develop leaders who can lead in turbulent times? Below are some inputs from several thought leaders for your reflection.

Circular Vision – Odilon Almeida, President, Americas & EU Region for Western Union, shares the need for leaders to develop a circular vision – which is about anticipating the unexpected. This is so true in a turbulent market, where the line of sight is limited and we are not able to see around the corner. A circular vision helps the leaders to be open for opportunities, anticipate crisis, and manage change. Both the leader and the organization need to be ready for any change.

Entrepreneurial Spirit – Odilon Almeida, President, Americas & EU Region for Western Union, shares the need for leaders to have an entrepreneurial spirit. This is a critical need at a time when understanding and responding to market and internal opportunities is necessary to deliver value for the stakeholders. Effectiveness & efficiency have become basic foundational requirements for leadership & business success.

Embracing Change & Staying Grounded – Melanie Greenberg, in her article in Psychology Today, discusses the need for leaders to embrace change and stay grounded. It is important that a leader knows how to balance both. While the ability to embrace and be ahead of the change is critical, being grounded while embracing change is imperative for leaders.

Agile & Digital Business Skills – Towers Watson, in their Perspectives on Developing the 21st Century Leader, shares the need for leaders to have agile and digital business skills. The ability to leverage the power of new technologies & digitization is now critical in transforming organizations to become agile so that the organization can respond to any change in the environment.

Constructive Depolarizing – The Center for Creative Leadership articulates the need for leaders to be good at bringing together people from diverse backgrounds/cultures and achieving constructive engagement. This is indeed an important skill at a time when organizations are having multi-cultural and multi-generational workforces, and the need exists to create an inclusive environment to get the best results.

Smart Mob Organizing – The Center for Creative Leadership expresses the need for leaders to have the ability to engage social networks in organizations by leveraging technology. Technology can be such a powerful tool to engage people in organizations – be it through mobile phones, web chats, or anonymous polls. The skill is in being able to choose the right medium for the right purpose.

Bio-empathy – The Center for Creative Leadership states the need for leaders to have the ability to look at things from nature’s perspective. To visualize how the world would be different if all of the leaders had bio-empathy – organizations would be more planet friendly and strive to ensure that they impact the society positively.

Out-Centric – Gary Morgan, in his article in Fast Company, writes about the need for leaders to shift from being ego-centric to out-centric. Leaders should be more focused on the people around them and focused on developing them- understanding the self-actualization needs of the people in their teams and helping them to achieve those needs.

ROWE Focus – In his article in Fast Company, Gary Morgan also refers to the need for leaders to focus on ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. The shift is to focus more on results and output than on anything else.

In addition to the critical skills discussed above, leaders will also have to continue to excel in the enduring skills of Self-awareness, Emotional Intelligence, High Trust, Humility, Execution, and Business skills. These are the most important skills that leaders need to develop in order to lead in turbulent times.

The Institute of Organization Development (IOD) offers the Leadership Development Certification Program (LDCP) to help participants learn how to develop effective leadership development strategies to achieve organization goals and advance their career as a Leadership Development Professional. This program provides participants with the tools and skills needed to guide senior leaders to design and implement a best practice Leadership Development Program.  After completing the program, you will gain a certification as a Leadership Development Professional and earn the distinction of LDCP.

To learn more about how you can develop these skills and implement an effective leadership development strategy, contact IOD at


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