How The World’s Biggest Organizations Are Developing Leaders For A Post-Pandemic World
This article was originally published in Forbes.
The shifting landscape of work is moving us into unknown territory, prompting us to question what the next chapter looks like and how to evolve. As leaders, it’s time to reexamine how we lead ourselves and others through an uncertain future. I recently had a chance to sit down with one of our clients, the visionary Chief Learning Officer (CLO) of Unilever, Tim Munden. Tim and I discussed what he thinks the world will need from leaders and the cross-company CLO Forum he launched in early 2020 to tackle these monumental shifts with his peers.
Interconnected Leadership in a Post-Pandemic World
When I asked Tim how he sees leadership changing as we emerge from the global pandemic, he pointed to the idea of interconnectivity. “What we see around us is all connected,” says Tim. “It is no longer enough for leaders to lead from their own defined context. We have to run our organizations, but what's apparent is that the context in which we do that is an interconnected reality. The pandemic has brought that home.”
Today’s leaders need to grasp the full realities of the world in which they work, and then run a business that honors obligations to all stakeholders, including societal obligations. This type of interconnected leadership requires a greater awareness of the world and a deeper consciousness of one’s relationship to it.
“As leaders, we’re all more exposed now, and the current environment can feel unforgiving. Today, there's less place for leaders to hide. The habits, attitudes and experiences that shape us become much more obvious. That’s where the “inner game” becomes even more necessary in this increasingly complex world.”
The Inner Game and The Outer Game
As Tim describes it, the inner game is about being (who we are), and the outer game is about doing (what we do). With today’s flat structures and fast-changing environment, leaders’ motivations are more transparent. Teams see their leaders for who they are more clearly now than ever. And, people want to be led by purposeful human beings, to know that the person guiding and shaping their organization is there for something bigger than themselves.
This means that leaders need a healthy amount of self-awareness and self-reflection – an ability to be in touch with their emotions, attitudes, and motivations on a daily basis. “What’s critical is showing up as a leader, really taking responsibility for being present, for hearing people, for managing your mood, and for feeling what's happening around you,” said Tim. Mastering the inner game also means staying open to learning and growth to avoid any rigidity and inflexibility that might come with years of work experience and job mastery.
Lastly, Tim says, “The subtlest, but maybe the most important part of the inner game, is cultivating the awareness that we are bigger than our experiences, bigger than our current thinking, bigger than our learning, and bigger than the emotions we're feeling. We are, as human beings, deeper than that, and that's why we can see them, feel them, and manage them.”
The outer game is about doing the things necessary to run an organization – helping teams to be the very best they can be, harnessing human energy to create exceptional outcomes, establishing a vision and then empowering others to achieve remarkable things. “Our job as leaders is to set direction, define parameters, and then let people run with it,” says Tim. “But there are plenty of things that can get in the way of that. Fear, insecurity, uncertainty. Things that bring us back to the inner game. And in that way, you learn that each can never be without the other. To master the outer game, you have to constantly be working on the inner game.”
Collaborating Across Organizations
In March 2020, with support from Potential Project and other partners, Munden launched the CLO Forum to unite Chief Learning Officers and heads of leadership development across organizations in their shared work to build the leaders the world needs now, especially during a time when there’s so much willingness to rewrite the rules. The Forum has become a unique collaboration among peers to shape the next generation of leaders.
As Ginny Chequer, Global Director of Leader & Team Development, People & Communities at Cisco, describes it, “We are an interconnected community, building relationships and common purpose beyond our organizations. We are sitting with the ambiguity of an emerging construct and exploring ways to adapt, learn, grow and disrupt together.”
Because the Forum is not a commercial setting, it has also become a very safe space, a powerful community in which all can share what is and what isn’t working, ask open and honest questions, and give open and honest answers. Nick Hudson, HR Director for Organizational and Leadership Development in Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Intel, describes it this way: “The CLO forum provides the platform for a diverse set of companies to be able to share their experiences and thoughts with each other in an inclusive, open and trusted space. As the African proverb says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.”
What is the Future of Leadership Development?
When reflecting on how leadership development needs to change, Tim stresses the importance of focusing on leadership, not just on the people historically labelled as leaders. In-depth development programs have always been available for a select few at the top, but those initiatives don’t build the foundation for lasting change. “We've got to give everyone the chance to reflect deeply on what's happening within them,” says Tim. “Everybody should be reflecting on their purpose and how it matches up with what they do at work.”
“At Unilever, almost 60,000 people have had the opportunity to reflect on and give voice to their purpose. It’s one of the things I am very proud about and believe we are getting right. Now, we need to find solutions that work both in-depth and at-scale to build leadership, and I think that's the challenge and the opportunity. We need deep emotional, deep awareness, and deep presence techniques, and we need to be able to create those for users in a safe space with great professional rigor. That's a big change. I don't think the industry is there yet, but we are on our way.”