The quest for more sustainable and ethical organisations prompted by the many recent business scandals and the growing realisation that we cannot continue to raid our world’s natural resources without considering the future is also putting extraordinary pressures on today’s leaders to perform against a range of criteria which go far beyond those of short term business performance.

There are an increasing number of commentators who argue convincingly that measuring leadership success should increasingly now include questions of the longer term common good:  socially, ethically and globally, at the same time as responding to the pace of change in a world where today’s ideas might already be doomed to obsolescence. Research and experience tells us that developing leaders without considering the culture in which they operate reduces the effectiveness of training interventions significantly.

This is echoed in the work carried out by Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyk in developing the ILM72 model and measure. They found that that they were able to assess adopted leadership style. They found that many leaders didn’t apply their preferred leadership style but tended to seek to adopt the prevailing leadership style (culture) prevalent in the organisation. They too concluded that it appears to be nigh impossible to develop leadership styles in an individual if that clashes with the organisations preferences or to put it another way, to develop leadership most effectively probably means working simultaneously at the organisational, team and individual levels.

As the type of people who enter our organisations begins to change – in terms of attitudes, beliefs, aspirations and abilities, we need to ask how leadership and culture will need to develop into the future. Will there be a preparedness to “conform” to a prevailing culture or will there be a need for a new kind of diversity where organisations learn to accommodate those who wish to apply their preferred style rather than their adopted style.

It can be argued that “Leadership is simple but not easy”. The intellectual journey is quite straightforward. But putting the theory into practice is the tough part.  Leadership is undoubtedly going to become more challenging as the 21st century progresses, and preparing and supporting leaders for these challenges should lie at the heart of organisational development.

The Chartered Management Institute’s white paper (2013) on the top challenges facing UK-based CEOs indicates a wide range of preoccupations, with customer relationships as their top strategic challenge, followed by operational excellence, human capital, government regulation and corporate brand and reputation.

So how can such multi-dimensional leadership be developed for these 21st century challenges?

What key capabilities do 21st century leaders need to help them and their organisations to cope with the speed of change ahead? And how can today’s organisations develop leadership development strategies that will prepare them for these future challenges?

Futurologists tell us that the pace of technological and global change will continue exponentially, and that the changes they foresee are even more radical than those we have seen in the last thirty years.

Our communication technologies, they say, will soon be even more interconnected, and our lives will be run for us by smart phone technologies that can already monitor our sleep, order our groceries, plan our route to work in real time to avoid traffic congestion, schedule our diaries on our behalf, and enable our health to be monitored in the process! Our businesses will also be similarly driven by these ‘knowledge-creating’ communications. 3D printing is set to revolutionise many of our businesses – by 2020 this is likely to be routine everyday technology.

Managing Diversity continues to be one of the greatest challenges to leadership. Manu of us already work in multi-cultural environments where not everyone sees things in the same way. This is not to be feared, such diversity adds value and as such is to be harnessed.

All this will inevitably demand that we develop new and critical dimensions of leadership to be a successful 21st century leader. Some of these dimensions are already becoming important, whereas other capabilities may only come to prominence as a result of the challenges ahead.  Equally it might mean that some aspects of leadership development which have hitherto received less attention now become more important.

Leadership development programmes, therefore, need to adapt to meet this change. Resilience, both personal and organisational, will increasingly become a core element of leadership development courses. This resilience will include the ability to scan and understand the competitive global landscape, the ability to adapt to change as well as to lead change, the ability to build leadership capacity across the whole organisation, and to embrace new technologies. In short, leadership is likely to require greater agility and mental toughness, but it will also require vision, responsibility and humility. We should start preparing the next generation of leaders now.

In our full report we outline what kind of leadership might be needed for the 21st century, what existing research tells us about leadership development for resilient organisations and outline what the essential elements of effective Leadership Development for resilient 21st century organisations should be.

To register for the full report please email Dave Otter at dave@aqr.co.uk