In this edition, Cerys looks at what emerging leaders need when faced with the challenge of building the future of their organisations. Being identified as an emerging leader is both a proud and daunting moment for many – stepping into a sliver of limelight before you’ve built the tools you need to succeed. A quick Google search will uncover the yearly Times list of emerging leaders (which is daunting), several structured programmes that teach pretty traditional leadership skills and articles listing skills to develop for those looking to progress. But inside organisations, there is a gap between what emerging leaders need on a personal level and ensuring that their development brings large benefits for the wider org. For emerging leaders to be able to fulfil their mission – to build the future of the organisation – they cannot all be on a single, identical journey. Their learning needs are diverse, personal and ever evolving. Unlike traditional leadership training, which focuses on a clear set of leadership tools, emerging leaders need to pursue projects outside of the norm, the opportunity to build something, uncover deeper thinking about what the organisation needs strategically and the opportunity to start building the kind of network and influence needed to make their ideas a reality. But more than anything, they need to learn how to learn again, how to challenge themselves to tackle goals so big that their outcomes are uncertain, how to network, influence and build alliances. And all of this needs to be learned whilst working towards their own personal goals.

Image by Rob Walsh

Before we can lead others, we have to learn to lead ourselves. We have to uncover where our passion and the future of our company lies, and what role we want to take in its transformation. And because becoming an emerging leader means sometimes leaving behind our current ways of working, building a new culture, changing the very structure, processes and fabric of the organisation, there is no one-size-fits-all programme. What are the hallmark features most appreciated by emerging leaders in our programmes?

Helping them think bigger

Emerging leaders need help to think big. Personal Development Plans encourage us to set personal and organisational development goals using the SMART structure, where the ‘A’ stands for attainable, and performance-related benefits are linked to that attainability, encouraging conservatism (more critique of the approach here). But to build the future of the organisation, we need to think big. Really big. So the first challenge we need to help emerging leaders with are goals that are so big they seem impossible! Whether we encourage them to take inspiration from Google X’s use of moonshot goals, or simple envisioning techniques, such as exploring what type of TED talk you want to be able to deliver at the end of your career, we’ve noticed that this stage can create anxiety for emerging leaders used to achieving 100% of their goals. What happens if they fail? Reframing the failure discussion as a learning experience is essential (some great advice in this collection), as is recognising that this is a practice that requires work, rather than a hard skill that is mastered once.

Helping them build a system that helps them know what to do when

Our biggest, most regular compliant from emerging leaders is lack of time. Not being able to carve out sufficient time to make their own development a priority. Of course, support from senior leaders is crucial here, but ultimately the only person who can and will prioritise your personal develop is… you! But there are lessons we can take from system thinking (a primer here) to make this easier. By building yourself a development system, you need to ensure that you have an infrastructure in place that means that when you have time to learn you are not scrabbling around for what to learn. For example, your infrastructure might include somewhere to keep bookmarks for relevant reading, a place to record insights and somewhere to keep a topic map for future exploration. A consistent rhythm for learning ensures that you are doing small amounts of learning constantly, rather than trying to invest large amounts of ad hoc time. The effect of compound interest on your personal development is what makes the habit building worthwhile! Finally, once you have identified what and when to learn, you need the techniques that help you embed lessons fast – for these, we encourage emerging leaders to explore far and wide for inspiration.

Showing them where to find inspiration for change

Management and development techniques from Japan have always provided me with inspiration when addressing my own development journey – here are my four favourite techniques for working on improvements, either for my team or myself: Shoshin – adopting a mindset of humility and curiosity when approaching a subject can help you to remove in-built assumptions and uncover new insights. Shoshin also encourages engaging those with opposing views in respectful exploratory dialogue. We have a tendency to stay in our tribe, which for a leader can create an echo chamber – we need diverse thinking to build an inclusive future! Kaizen – bringing continuous improvement to personal development helps us to stay focused on small actions taken often, demonstrating progress and keeping us motivated. Start small, start slow. Nemawashi – an approach to building consensus and influence with groups helps to remind us that we cannot change anything alone, it takes a village. But our villages (or teams) need us to network, build influence and work constantly to explore exciting new options in a safe environment. Gemba – at its most basic, Gemba is the place where work happens, and Lean uses the Gemba walk as a key tool for understanding what is happening on the shop floor before trying to design and make changes. But there are different types of Gemba practices – one of which helps you develop self-awareness and development goals.

Final thoughts…

Cohorts of emerging leaders are some of the most driven, enthusiastic employees you have within the organisation. Harnessing them and helping them to uncover the tools they personally need to succeed needs a long timescale and a flexible programme of support. But watching them flourish and do amazing things is always worthwhile!

Take part in our new research

Post*Shift is conducting some new research into barriers and challenges that emerging leaders are experiencing in creating the future of their organisations. If you are interested in taking part, please contact to find out more.