What do leaders dream about?

Today's leaders need many tools to help them lead or manage their increasingly complex organizations. They have been designed to help leaders respond quickly to new challenges such as global digitization, rapidly advancing technologies and fierce competition.

Norbert Biedrzycki blog What leaders dream about

Organizations increasingly understand that their chances of successfully implementing an innovative strategy will be quite slim without a strong leader leading the change. Accordingly, corporations invest in a wide range of leadership development programs – an estimated $50 billion annually, according to a recent McKinsey report, “What’s missing in leadership development?” However, as you can see from the report’s title, most of these programs fail to produce their desired results as many corporations continue to plateau, their leaders frustrated and unable to work toward their goals, their frustrations shared by the teams they lead. This is not good for corporations, their leaders, or their employees. This is not good for anyone.


Training: It’s just not working

Today’s leaders need many tools to help them lead or manage their increasingly complex organizations and, in fact, ever more of these sorts of tools are available. They have been designed to help leaders respond quickly to new challenges such as global digitization, rapidly advancing technologies and fierce competition. Contemporary leaders also arrange their own continuing education programs, arranging external trainings, participating in webinars, tuning in to TED talks, and following the achievements of men and women they have identified as gurus.

Theoretically, leader effectiveness and performance should be improving. But it is not, as testified to by the leaders themselves and their subordinates. Of the more than 500 executives McKinsey polled in 2016, only 11 percent agreed with the statement that “their leadership-development interventions achieve and sustain the desired results.”

What is going wrong? Are leaders simply unable to translate the knowledge they acquire into day-to-day practice, or is the knowledge they gain too far removed from reality to be useful? Or, perhaps the problem lies in companies whose structures, habits and processes are so stuck in concrete that even the most ambitious leadership development projects cannot overcome the organization’s inertia.

But things are not hopeless. The respondents to the McKinsey survey identified four fundamental factors that will lead to both the organizational and personal success of any leadership program.


1. Leaders need to know the priorities…

One key consideration raised by the respondents is the organization’s ability to translate its strategy into a leadership model. In other words, the organization’s priorities must be clearly identified in consultation with leaders. This will help them act in ways that reflect the organization’s most pressing needs and thereby increase their chances of success. To me as a leader, the ability to agree on and understand objectives is essential. To help my organization succeed, I need to know its key aims. I also need to know whether, for instance, its priority at a given time is to support acquisitions or organic growth. An effective leadership program should provide me with such knowledge.


2. But so does everyone else

Another key success factor for leadership programs is their reach. The ideas they provide should not be disseminated exclusively to leaders. A good leadership program should extend across many levels of the organization. Only then will it create an environment that encourages people to embrace change. A leadership development program whose reach is broad will help leaders by helping the people who work for and with them understand better the intentions behind their actions.


3. Get out of the classroom

The effectiveness of leadership development programs hinges largely on the methods employed to spread learning throughout the organization. Rather than fitting leaders into the old teacher-student model, sitting in a classroom, it is far better to leverage case studies and real-life situations from their business practice. This will allow them to place any newly-acquired knowledge in the context of their daily tasks, helping them to see its relevance. An effective leadership program should work to reduce the distance between theory and practice. The technology available to companies should make this possible. After all, there are so many channels that can be used to bring curricular content to leaders.


4. Embracing change

Organizations should assure their leaders that they are prepared to make the changes that emerge organically from their learnings. This, after all, is the whole point of an effective leadership development program, and a key to innovation: allowing leaders to deploy the ideas developed in their training to effect organizational change – that is the desired outcome of the training. Consequently, the organization should be ready to relax or alter its established models if it wants its leaders to feel their participation in a leadership development program is truly meaningful. There is nothing more frustrating for leaders than having to admit to co-workers that the process they are all involved in is at bottom a charade.


What I want from leadership programs

My experience has made me deeply aware that the success of the organization I am leading is a function of multiple factors. I know that no program no matter how well conceived, executed and supported can produce effects within days or weeks, and that program failures are not to be blamed solely on individuals, a misguided organization model or a wrong approach that I myself am taking. Management is the total of complex factors. Hence, my success results from dozens of critical decisions that I must make within specified time limits.

I want leadership programs to point me in the right direction – one that my organization wishes to follow. I do not need or want to be given detailed instructions on what to do; all I need to know are the organization’s priorities. Once I know them, I will be able to adapt individual tools and draw appropriately from my prior experience and knowledge.

For an effective leadership program to work, I need to be able to meet my closest co-workers, be willing to share my newly-acquired knowledge with them and demonstrate my enthusiasm for what I’ve learned… and show them that I am free to build on those learnings within the organization. The key to managing an organization is to continuously exchange ideas and have mutual dialogues among people who are open to both listening to others and freely expressing their own beliefs.

Finally, I believe that an effective leadership program involves constant coaching which allows me to discover what is best in me and the people who work by my side. Such a discovery can eventually allow me to feel that my goals and those of the organization are largely, if not perfectly, aligned.

For a leader to feel this way, an organization must replace hierarchical management models with ones based on the free flow of views and ideas. I could gladly subscribe to any leadership program that is centered on people and their involvement in building a company’s values unconstrained by history, habit or outdated processes.


Related articles:

– Reflections on ethical leadership

– Automation will not destroy all jobs

– Uncertainty has its upside. Leadership in digital economy

– From Dictator to Partner

– Blockchain poised to shake up our lives

– Will quantum computers doom the blockchain?

– The “sharing economy” was envisioned nearly 100 years ago


Leave a Reply


  1. JohnE3

    Very insightful piece. Yes it begins with proper leadership but without mindset change it is a difficult road to travel. DT is about people. Technology is the enabler.

  2. AdaZombie

    Some of the activities of leaders will be facilitated or actually done by AI, but I don’t think you can delegate responsibility in terms of making decisions about improving performance, growing the business, all the usual leadership decisions. There will still be a need for figureheads, but I think it will be more shared because the issues they face are far more complex. There’s so much information about customers, for example, that needs interpretation. There’s more of an opportunity to share responsibility. Part of the role of digital leaders is to simplify the organisation and cut through the hierarchy. Too many organisations have too many layers, too much bureaucracy.

    • TomHarber

      While leaders have been discussing being “customer-centered” or “customer-focused” for a while, in 2018 it’s time to walk the talk. With robust customer feedback mechanisms and reporting, there is simply no excuse for not adapting to what customers really want today. Customers are no longer loyal to a brand, they’re loyal to experiences that work for them.

  3. Tom299

    The biggest mistake being made by leaders is to regard the introduction of new technology and digital capabilities such as websites, social media and online activity as fulfilling the requirements of digital leadership.

  4. Adam Spark Two

    Today’s leaders are often caught between financial objectives, spreadsheets and shareholder expectations on one hand and, on the other, empowered customers who can post their experiences on the internet, reaching millions in moments. Tough job to perform

  5. Mac McFisher

    Interesting and still scary. Probably because people still cannot grasp it and the Matrix movie is too fresh for some and people still need to see the bright light of this tech advancement. And somehow it could not stop me thinking that “Indeed, jobs where human interactions, creativity and emotional intelligence matter should not be endangered” but this is already happening. Everyone is behind its mobile device and interaction hardly happening. Maybe a robot will help change that as we are so obsessed with devises that chatting to a robot will become the new norm of interaction..

    • John Accural

      With AI on hand to carry out both menial leg work and contribute to vital decision making, having a hierarchy at all could eventually become unnecessary. Many businesses have already realised that running a corporate dictatorship is not how to get the best out of their employees.

    • Check Batin

      Artificial Intelligence will have staggering implications for the way that organisations function, and their leaders will be no exception. While the traditional concept of ‘a boss’ isn’t exactly complementary, a focus on combining hard and soft characteristics paints a new picture. As well as facilitating a shift in the perception of good leadership qualities, AI could lead to the transformation of organisational hierarchies.

      • Tesla29

        I had it explained to me that one of the reasons for the reluctance of companies and government to line up for policy controls is profits. This is the push and pull around making money and doing the right thing. This is the time for government and companies to do the right thing and they can feel proud stepping forward to help protect humanity.

        • TommyG

          Have you any thoughts on reconciling the short-term, medium-term and longer goals & strategies e.g. (1) in longer term the relative transfer of % global consumer spending from North Atlantic regions to APAC and later Africa or (2) if blockchain were to be important (part of the analysis and planning you talk about) how do you prioritise that over,say, digitising insurance claims processes to compete with today’s Lemonades and TRIVS?

    • Simon GEE

      We make heroes of people who give “110%”. Most days, most people at work don’t get close to that. What if, at the right times, you expected and lead by example through your willingness to work harder and with greater focus? People can’t run at 100% and on adrenaline and caffeine forever, but sometimes pushing that limit is just what a team needs to succeed.

  6. Jack666

    Good for those who are looking for new training programs and for those who offer them!

  7. ZoraBora

    Looks interesting Norbert, looking forward to hearing more about it.

  8. Oscar2

    The Midas touch of the digital age.
    It is worth to predict an increase in demand by ………. for strong computing units. -:)

  9. Zidan78

    This was amazing. Just what I needed at the right time. Thank you for this.

  10. TonyHor

    Many companies that have been around a long time have seen the light and are leading major transformations that improve culture, performance and leadership structure. The big ego bosses and dictators with an underserved sense of self-worth are finding it harder to exist in these new environments. A few 360-degree reviews and peer evaluations can fix that really quickly. The younger generations in the workplace today aren’t afraid to “share” their opinion. Especially when it’s anonymous. Trust me!

    • SimonMcD

      Leaders of the digital age need to try and tap into the full potential of the people who work for them, which means they have to have a greater understanding of what their people can do, empower them more, and also ask more questions. Leaders in the digital age are much better at asking questions, and showing some vulnerability in what they don’t know.

      • TomHarber

        The winners will be those who redirect their attention to what’s happening inside their organizations, getting clear on who they want to be and what success looks like. Focusing first on what’s in their control will help them make decisions that matter.

  11. JohnE3

    Good read. Management is more easily taught and learned in my opinion – planning, budgeting, staffing, quality control, processes, systems, etc. Leadership is a different beast and very few companies are designed for powerful leadership development. Their structures aren’t designed for it, they don’t invest in it or don’t see the need to prioritize it. Or all of the above. But if anything I have mentioned in this article is valid, then how can today’s fast-paced organizations NOT find better ways to develop their leaders.

  12. DDonovan

    In some of the most successful start-ups and even large organizations that have evolved, you can visibly see greater levels of delegation and decision making at all levels. Leaders focus on guiding and communicating the vision, leading large client projects and finding new ways to develop their staff. Managers are taking on more leadership responsibilities and pass increasing amounts of responsibility to junior employees.

  13. TommyG

    Some dreams, of course, are about money. In many professions, people are willing to work eighty-hour weeks and travel non-stop at least partially because they expect to receive large bonuses or payoffs. But for others, chasing this kind of financial dream alone is not enough. There also needs to be some deeper and more personal aspiration.

  14. Tesla29

    Understand what the core responsibilities are for your role, and what are secondary responsibilities, or even work that belongs to someone else.

    That won’t stop people from asking you to take on additional tasks and projects. And there are certainly times when taking on additional duties may be required due to unusual circumstances, or might be important for your own professional development. But the most effective managers understand that they will largely be judged based on how effective they are at their core responsibilities.