Leadership: How to foster collaborative, agile executives


Forget command and control. Leadership in corporations today requires a more collaborative style.

Leaders now must adapt to ever faster change. They must respond to input from ever more informed consumers, employees and communities. And they must foster new leaders to ensure a healthy future for their organizations.

World City 9-20-13 6 of 11 Senior HR Executive Sara Baker of Citrix for the Americas says lack of leadership talent hinders growth.

Those were some take-aways from WorldCity’s Human Resources Connections on Sept. 20, led by senior HR executive Sara Baker of software giant Citrix for the Americas.

“A significant number of CEOs say their biggest constraint to growth is they don’t have enough leadership talent,” Baker said, citing ample research in a well-documented presentation.

Leadership matters for many reasons, Baker said. Companies that focus on leadership have about 10 percent higher returns to shareholders than those that don’t. They also have higher brand value, employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

Furthermore, as U.S. Baby Boomers age, a new generation of leaders will be needed to replace them – from a smaller demographic pool. Already, younger leaders are showing they prefer a more tech-savvy, collaborative workplace, she said.

Fostering innovation

For corporations to compete, leaders today need to drive innovation as well as operational excellence, Baker said.

But developing a pipeline of leaders who are both innovative and technically-proficient presents challenges for HR professionals.

“We may see an innovator as a disrupter and not put him in a high potential list,” said Lorena Keough, a principal with retained executive search firm Diversified Search.

World City 9-20-13 4 of 11Deborah Hernandez of LATAM Airlines Group says its important to encourage risks, even after they lead to failure

Some companies may be tempted to punish innovators who take risks that fail. But it’s important to foster a culture that takes risks, learns from mistakes and “gives space to try again,” said Deborah Hernandez, who leads HR for cargo for LATAM Airlines Group.

People skills, not just technical prowess

Top executives who lead “boldly” also must have people skills to motivate younger staff increasingly concerned with fulfilling a social mission and building community, said Francia Baez Guzman, senior business leader and head of global engagement for financial services giant Visa International.

“People don’t just come to work. They want it to be more than a 9-5, especially Millennials want to tie their lives to work” as a community aiming to help society, Baez said.

Leaders also need to communicate often and effectively with their teams, sharing with employees, explaining their company’s vision and values and leading “by example,” said Mariana Ortiz de Zarate, HR manager for the Latin America and Caribbean region for Eaton Corp. /Power Distribution Organization.

Yet finding executives with a strong mix of skills can be tough. Some with strong technical or analytical skills may be weak in inter-personal skills. And others strong in communications may be slow to adapt to the speeding pace of change, participants said.

“Agility includes a multicultural piece as well,” as organizations become more global and need more diverse talent, said Howard McCarley, director of Club Med’s talent university for North America.

Baker shared a summary on leadership from Hay Group, a researcher that studies the topic and has ranked the 2013 Best Companies for Leadership based on surveys worldwide. 

“The future calls for the ego-less leader, someone who can orchestrate and get the best out of everyone. The change agent. The bridge builder. The person with the emotional intelligence to influence – not control or bully – and who can exert that influence simultaneously with people and teams who may have conflicting agendas,” Hay Group said.

That description raised the question: What are some best HR practices to develop those leaders?, Baker asked the group.

World City 9-20-13 3 of 11 Marylou Ponzi Kay, founder and president of HR consultancy MPK Associates, says some companies fail to grow talent

“It’s important to grow talent. You have to take them to the next level,” said Marylou Ponzi Kay, founder and president of HR consultancy MPK Associates and author of the newly published book, Powering Up Your Inner Brand. “That’s a rich area that companies often overlook.”

Organizations also have to become more inclusive, especially in technology where the culture has tended to be male-dominated and “super-hero” focused, said Emre Memecan, senior human resources manager for Microsoft Latin America.

Fostering a culture of listening goes a long way too, even helping to avert lawsuits by employees.

“Often with employee problems, it’s really about being heard,” said Niza Motola, special counsel with employment law firm Littler Mendelson.

Companies best for leadership also allocate resources to develop leaders both when times are good and bad, Baker said.

Know yourself

Leaders themselves also must take time for self-reflection. Baker said she learned a helpful practice from former Baxter CEO Harry Kraemer. He suggests leaders take 10 minutes each night before you go to sleep to answer these questions: What did I set out to do today? How did I do? What can I do better?

“If you know yourself, you can lead yourself, and when you can,” said Baker, “then you are equipped to lead others.”

HR Connections is one of six event series organized by media company WorldCity to bring together executives on international business topics. The HR series is sponsored by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, the European Institute of Social Capital, Diversified Search and Littler Mendelson. The next session is set for Nov. 8.

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