Human Resources



Why past experience is no more the key for future managerial success

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The key to ensuring an organisation has the leaders it needs, is to accelerate the performance of high potential employees, confirms Prof Sattar Bawany, CEO of the Centre for Executive Education. 

The rapidly evolving demands of the 21st century include everything from climate change to demography, shifting customer requirements and expectations, the rise of technology, globalisation, new markets, and new attitudes to work. Leaders must now operate in a way that inspires and engages people, while simultaneously addressing changing customer requirements and delivering results.

Finally, all of these needs to be achieved with a sense of urgency, as the experienced leaders of the Baby Boomer generation continue to retire at pace (Hagemann & Bawany, 2016).

A company’s leadership pipeline is expected to deliver its next generation of leaders who are capable of leading now. The payoff is a supply of leadership talent that simultaneously achieves targets, strengthens and protects ethical reputation, and navigates transformational change in pursuit of a bright, competitive future.

Because customers’ changing requirements are so significant, and customer focus is a hot topic for executive development leaders, investing an appropriate amount of time, energy, and other resources to develop the capabilities of high potential leaders in these areas will be very important. Mentoring, feedback and coaching, and training programmes are all potentially valuable ways to address this need.

In essence, the heart of the managerial challenge that confronts today’s managers is learning how to lead in situations of ever greater VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) globalised business environment, allied with the needs to deal with scale, complexity and new organisational forms that often break with the traditional organisational models and structures within which many have learned their ‘managerial trade’.

So the basic assumption that past experience is the key for future managerial success is more open to scrutiny than ever.

Leading in a VUCA world

Leading in a VUCA world not only provides a challenging environment for leaders to operate and for executive development programmes to have an impact: it also provides a much-needed range of new competencies.

Mentoring, feedback and coaching, and training programmes are all potentially valuable ways to address today’s needs.

In particular, leaders today must deal with:

  1. Volatility in economic conditions, including a slowly recovering economy and looming interest rate increases, and changing customer requirements.
  2. Uncertainty brought about by increasing globalisation, as well as regulatory and legislative changes.
  3. Complexity driven by revolutionary technology changes impacting organisational products, and ongoing demand for increased innovation in a climate of rapid technological evolution.
  4. Ambiguity brought about by the generational shift accompanied by Baby Boomer retirements and next gen leaders rising to take more and more senior roles.

All of these factors combine to create an extremely dynamic climate that puts pressure on leaders to excel.

Building the next gen leadership pipeline

Talent management and retention is perennially at the top of CEO’s most pressing worries. A company’s leadership pipeline is expected to deliver its next generation of ready-now leaders.

The key to ensuring an organisation has the leaders it needs when it needs them, is to accelerate the performance of future leaders including high potential employees, so that their skills and leadership abilities are as strong as possible when they are needed particularly as leaders transition from role to role.

Unfortunately, some boards and CEOs neglect their talent management accountability – consequently, their pipelines run dry. When this occurs, the downward spiral of competitive capability becomes discernable, the edge is lost, and the magic disappears. The competition begins to outwit, outflank and outperform these companies.

Executive and leadership training programmes may be strengthened, broadened and deepened to include inspiring and engaging others, as well as cognitive readiness and critical thinking skills. These capabilities can be addressed by incorporating specific activities and exercises designed to increase awareness of their impact and importance in familiar techniques, such as case studies or applicable business simulations.

Additionally, opportunities for application and practice can be provided in experience based approaches where participants work to apply the concepts and skills directly to real business issues, while colleagues and facilitators provide feedback based on behaviours they observed during their work together.

The key to ensuring an organisation has the leaders it needs when it needs them, is to accelerate the performance of future leaders including high potential employees.

Development of high performance organisations

The world moves faster today when compared to 20-30 years ago. Driving results in high performance organisations (HPOs) is difficult even for companies who have the benefit of dedicated and knowledgeable employees and business leaders to leverage.

Today, people often point to the importance of various leadership competencies including cognitive readiness (critical and strategic thinking skills), emotional and social intelligence, managerial coaching and leading team for performance, effective negotiation and conflict management and cross cultural communication and diversity management, in driving results in an HPO.

Leadership is all about the ability to have impact and influence on your followers so as to engage them towards achieving results of your organisation leveraging a repertoire of leadership styles, ontological humility, servant leadership (Level 5) blended with elements of emotional and social intelligence competencies (Bawany, 2014).


There are two things we can say with certainty about the future: it will be different, and it will surprise. Today’s new and different environment is challenging leaders to find new ways to lead their organisations and achieve sustained success.

And, because of these circumstances, there is a thirst for leadership, yet leaders face a whirlwind environment laden with remarkable opportunities and daunting challenges through which to lead their people and organisations.


1) Bonnie Hagemann, Sattar Bawany et al. (2016), Research on Trends in Executive Development: A Benchmark Report, published by published by Executive Development Associates (EDA); Pearson TalentLens and Performance Assessment Network (PAN), February 2016.

2) Bonnie Hagemann & Sattar Bawany (2016), Enhancing Leadership and Executive Development – Latest Trends & Best Practices in Leadership Excellence Essentials, Issue 03.2016.

3) Sattar Bawany (2014), “Building High Performance Organisations with Results-based Leadership (RBL) Framework” in Leadership Excellence Essentials, Issue 11.2014

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