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Training Next Gen Leaders to Make Interpersonal Connections

4 min read

“New technologies and processes will only be as effective as the people who use them. Failure to appreciate the cultural obstacles to technology-led change will remain a recipe for falling behind.” –The Economist

Artificial intelligence. The Internet of Things. Big Data. 3D-printing. Whether or not you’ve been paying attention to all of the disruption literature, what’s clear is that technological advances are impacting the corporate landscape and keeping L&D leaders on their toes:

  • Organizational structures are changing—becoming flatter, more matrixed, more global and virtual.

“Our internal functions have to stop bickering and start collaborating to improve the customer experience.”

“There’s a disconnect between headquarters and the satellite offices that is impacting engagement.”

  • Jobs roles are changing—some requiring a shift in skillset to accommodate new technologies, others disappearing altogether and being replaced by new positions.

“Our IT staff needs to take on more of a service role if we’re going to make it through these system changes without people quitting.”

“Our financial advisers need to show their value to clients or risk being replaced by online products.”

  • Change environments are status quo—everyday business channels The Hunger Games as employees navigate a volatile minefield of mergers, acquisitions, budget cuts, re-orgs and system updates.

Our managers need to keep their teams producing with fewer resources…again.

We just went through a re-org and our new teams just aren’t “meshing” well which is killing productivity.

Amidst these shifts, learning leaders are presented with the challenge of trying to put out today’s fires while preparing next-gen workers for an uncertain future.

That’s a lot to deal with. So how do leaders prioritize? What’s most important?

In his book Humans are Underrated, Geoff Colvin argues that we’re moving towards an environment where the most valuable skills are “…the abilities that literally define us as humans: sensing the thoughts and feelings of others, working productively in groups, building relationships, solving problems together, expressing ourselves with greater power than logic can ever achieve.”

In other words, lateral leadership and communication skills that enable professionals of all levels to get their ideas heard and influence up, down and across organizations to move the business forward.

The Evolution of Presence

Ariel has specialized in relationship-building and communication skills training for years under the umbrella “leadership presence.” Defined as “the ability to connect authentically with the hearts and minds of others in order to motivate or inspire a desired outcome,” presence was previously a skill associated with only the most senior leaders or brilliant high-potentials who needed to be “polished up” before stepping into the spotlight. Presence was, in essence, about inspiring engagement and followership—being able to articulate a leadership vision and rallying the company behind it.

Then, several years ago, something interesting happened.

Before we’d even heard about the concept of technological disruption, it began to impact our business. Clients still wanted us to teach storytelling, influence, and relationship-building but for different reasons. Junior Analysts had to tell the story of data. Salespeople had to build more authentic relationships with clients. Boston had to collaborate with Singapore—and the list goes on.

In today’s flatter, matrixed organizational models where more people are responsible for smaller pieces of the strategy, presence competencies take on more lateral leadership aspects—even for fairly senior leaders. The spotlight is constantly moving depending on what initiative is the highest priority. Leaders have to collaborate with each other to develop a joint vision and then inspire and engage direct reports to carry it through, often in chaotic change environments.

With fewer middle managers and more complex team and reporting structures, junior level employees and independent contributors also need to work globally and cross-functionally. They need to be able to build and leverage relationships, show up with impact and influence broad audiences. While the idea of a “gig economy” may not be fully realized, flatter organizations are leaner and more meritocratic—in order to be seen and heard above the din, people have to be able to sell themselves and their ideas.

Presence for a New Generation of Leaders

Now that presence is an essential skill for more levels of the organization, it’s time to rethink the skills and behaviors associated with it. Our PRES model for presence remains a relevant framework but needs some added grit to account for the complexity of our current business landscape. A little less razzle-dazzle and a little more Hunger Games, if you will:

PRES Element Traditional Model Next Gen Model
Present: In the moment and flexible to handle the unexpected.
  • Fully present while in the spotlight and in public.
  • Appears confident during crisis.
  • Able to speak confidently off the cuff.
  • Fully present amidst constant change, able to detach from what’s not important to focus on the task at hand.
  • Makes a strong first impression virtually and in person.
  • Ready to respond with confidence when put on the spot.
Reaching Out: Build relationships through empathy and listening
  • Demonstrate accessibility and are approachable across all levels.
  • Engages on personal and business level.
  • Curious and empathetic towards other points of view.
  • Builds personal relationships with peers, executives and direct reports that can be leveraged when things get tough.
Expressive: Appropriate and compelling use of emotion, language, stories
  • Displays gravitas through body and voice.
  • Inspires and motivates followers with stories.
  • Paints a picture of the future for others.
  • Communicates authentically with clarity, color and emotional intelligence both in person and virtually.
  • Varies style and approach by audience to maximize impact and influence.
Self-knowing: knowing your values, strengths and areas to improve.
  • Aligns personal values with corporate mission and integrate into communication.
  • Manages image by walking the talk.
  • Acts based on personal values.
  • Can articulate unique value to the organization.
  • Is aware of impact on other people.
  • Manages emotions and stress through self-care.

What’s inspiring about a workforce that can navigate disruption through communication and relationship building is that there is opportunity in the chaos – to learn, to connect, to grow, to evolve – and ultimately, our organizations will be stronger for it:

  • Additional voices to be heard, more opinions to consider
  • Innovative ideas from unexpected sources
  • More effective collaboration
  • Enhanced organizational transparency and insight
  • Improved relations between management and staff (less “us vs. them”)
  • Increased sense of personal responsibility
  • A truly organic sense of the organization as a whole, from attitude to stress levels

And of course, more opportunity for those with skill, talent, and drive to step up into leadership.

How is technology-led disruption impacting your organization? What pains, challenges, and improvements are you experiencing?


Virtual Presence Guide: How to Help Virtual Teams Create Authentic Connections

Download this guide to discover tips and best practices to help your teams be productive and engaged when working virtually.

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