Young, promising employees need focused training and other measures to help them step into leadership roles. It’s essential to have a leadership “compass” that helps the next generation of leaders develop the right set of skills for navigating a volatile, interconnected, and complex world. In a recent study, BCG interviews with nearly 30 senior HR executives around the world revealed that four capabilities—the four points of the compass—will differentiate the most successful leaders in the coming years:
Navigate. Leaders will need to combine analytical skills with an ability to interpret mixed signals in order to make decisions in uncertain situations.
Empathize. Leaders must respect and understand diverse perspectives and build networks of people outside their organization. Empathy with people at all levels and with different perspectives can be quite valuable when entering new regions or market segments.
Self-correct. Leaders will want to challenge and periodically revise their assumptions about leadership styles and modes of interacting with people. They should also be willing to reframe their business paradigms on the basis of changing demands.
Win and win. Leaders should broaden their view of what constitutes success, as success increasingly depends on cooperation with competitors, nongovernmental organizations, and regulators.
These four compass points should inform every initiative that aims to develop leadership skills, from training to mentoring to project assignments. Companies can offer a range of practices to help leaders think and behave consistently with these new imperatives.
First, they should actively expand future leaders’ horizons. Promising early-career leaders can be immersed in unfamiliar regions, product lines, or customer segments. More experienced leaders can be assigned temporarily to important external initiatives concerning policy or trade.
Second, they should lay down fast tracks that provide opportunities for high-potential employees to skip a rung. Migrating to new roles and new assignments benefits both young and later-stage leaders.
Third, they should accelerate skill development, benchmarked against the top talent in key markets. Leading a peer group or a joint venture can provide a controlled experience in authority, monitored through regular reviews to explicitly mine the points that can be learned.
Finally, companies should strive to inspire and retain their future leaders through opportunities to work on social causes that align with the business, through sabbaticals to pursue personal passions, or through challenging assignments that foster a sense of continuous learning and personal growth.