09:20
TED@BCG San Francisco

Roselinde Torres: What it takes to be a great leader

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The world is full of leadership programs, but the best way to learn how to lead might be right under your nose. In this clear, candid talk, Roselinde Torres describes 25 years observing truly great leaders at work, and shares the three simple but crucial questions would-be company chiefs need to ask to thrive in the future.

- Leadership expert
BCG's Roselinde Torres studies what makes great leaders tick -- and figures out how to teach others the same skills. Full bio

What makes a great leader today?
00:13
Many of us carry this image
00:17
of this all-knowing superhero
00:19
who stands and commands
00:23
and protects his followers.
00:25
But that's kind of an image from another time,
00:29
and what's also outdated
00:33
are the leadership development programs
00:35
that are based on success models
00:38
for a world that was, not a world that is
00:40
or that is coming.
00:44
We conducted a study of 4,000 companies,
00:46
and we asked them, let's see the effectiveness
00:51
of your leadership development programs.
00:54
Fifty-eight percent of the companies
00:56
cited significant talent gaps
00:59
for critical leadership roles.
01:01
That means that despite
corporate training programs,
01:03
off-sites, assessments, coaching, all of these things,
01:07
more than half the companies
01:11
had failed to grow enough great leaders.
01:13
You may be asking yourself,
01:18
is my company helping me to prepare
01:20
to be a great 21st-century leader?
01:23
The odds are, probably not.
01:26
Now, I've spent 25 years of my professional life
01:29
observing what makes great leaders.
01:34
I've worked inside Fortune 500 companies,
01:37
I've advised over 200 CEOs,
01:39
and I've cultivated more leadership pipelines
01:42
than you can imagine.
01:44
But a few years ago, I noticed a disturbing trend
01:47
in leadership preparation.
01:51
I noticed that, despite all the efforts,
01:54
there were familiar stories that kept resurfacing
01:58
about individuals.
02:01
One story was about Chris,
02:03
a high-potential, superstar leader
02:06
who moves to a new unit and fails,
02:09
destroying unrecoverable value.
02:12
And then there were stories like Sidney, the CEO,
02:15
who was so frustrated
02:19
because her company is cited
02:20
as a best company for leaders,
02:22
but only one of the top 50 leaders is equipped
02:25
to lead their crucial initiatives.
02:29
And then there were stories
02:31
like the senior leadership team
02:33
of a once-thriving business
02:36
that's surprised by a market shift,
02:38
finds itself having to force the company
02:41
to reduce its size in half
02:44
or go out of business.
02:46
Now, these recurring stories
02:49
cause me to ask two questions.
02:52
Why are the leadership gaps widening
02:54
when there's so much more investment
02:57
in leadership development?
02:59
And what are the great leaders doing
03:01
distinctly different to thrive and grow?
03:04
One of the things that I did,
03:08
I was so consumed by these questions
03:11
and also frustrated by those stories,
03:13
that I left my job
03:16
so that I could study this full time,
03:19
and I took a year to travel
03:21
to different parts of the world
03:24
to learn about effective and ineffective
03:26
leadership practices in companies,
03:28
countries and nonprofit organizations.
03:31
And so I did things like travel to South Africa,
03:34
where I had an opportunity to understand
03:38
how Nelson Mandela was ahead of his time
03:41
in anticipating and navigating
03:43
his political, social and economic context.
03:45
I also met a number of nonprofit leaders
03:48
who, despite very limited financial resources,
03:51
were making a huge impact in the world,
03:55
often bringing together seeming adversaries.
03:58
And I spent countless hours in presidential libraries
04:02
trying to understand how the environment
04:07
had shaped the leaders,
04:10
the moves that they made,
04:11
and then the impact of those moves
04:12
beyond their tenure.
04:14
And then, when I returned to work full time,
04:17
in this role, I joined with wonderful colleagues
04:20
who were also interested in these questions.
04:23
Now, from all this, I distilled
04:27
the characteristics of leaders who are thriving
04:30
and what they do differently,
04:34
and then I also distilled
04:35
the preparation practices that enable people
04:38
to grow to their potential.
04:41
I want to share some of those with you now.
04:43
("What makes a great leader in the 21st century?")
04:45
In a 21st-century world, which is more global,
04:47
digitally enabled and transparent,
04:51
with faster speeds of information
flow and innovation,
04:53
and where nothing big gets done
04:57
without some kind of a complex matrix,
04:59
relying on traditional development practices
05:02
will stunt your growth as a leader.
05:06
In fact, traditional assessments
05:09
like narrow 360 surveys or
outdated performance criteria
05:11
will give you false positives,
05:16
lulling you into thinking that you are more prepared
05:18
than you really are.
05:21
Leadership in the 21st century is defined
05:23
and evidenced by three questions.
05:27
Where are you looking
05:30
to anticipate the next change
05:32
to your business model or your life?
05:35
The answer to this question is on your calendar.
05:38
Who are you spending time with? On what topics?
05:43
Where are you traveling? What are you reading?
05:47
And then how are you distilling this
05:50
into understanding potential discontinuities,
05:51
and then making a decision to do something
05:55
right now so that you're prepared and ready?
05:57
There's a leadership team that does a practice
06:02
where they bring together each member
06:05
collecting, here are trends that impact me,
06:08
here are trends that impact another team member,
06:10
and they share these,
06:13
and then make decisions,
to course-correct a strategy
06:14
or to anticipate a new move.
06:17
Great leaders are not head-down.
06:20
They see around corners,
06:23
shaping their future, not just reacting to it.
06:26
The second question is,
06:29
what is the diversity measure
06:31
of your personal and professional
stakeholder network?
06:33
You know, we hear often about
good ol' boy networks
06:37
and they're certainly alive and
well in many institutions.
06:40
But to some extent, we all have a network
06:44
of people that we're comfortable with.
06:46
So this question is about your capacity
06:48
to develop relationships with people
06:51
that are very different than you.
06:54
And those differences can be biological,
06:55
physical, functional, political,
cultural, socioeconomic.
06:58
And yet, despite all these differences,
07:03
they connect with you
07:07
and they trust you enough
07:08
to cooperate with you
07:10
in achieving a shared goal.
07:11
Great leaders understand
07:14
that having a more diverse network
07:16
is a source of pattern identification
07:19
at greater levels and also of solutions,
07:23
because you have people that are thinking
07:26
differently than you are.
07:27
Third question: are you courageous enough
07:30
to abandon a practice that has
made you successful in the past?
07:33
There's an expression: Go along to get along.
07:39
But if you follow this advice,
07:43
chances are as a leader,
07:46
you're going to keep doing
what's familiar and comfortable.
07:49
Great leaders dare to be different.
07:53
They don't just talk about risk-taking,
07:56
they actually do it.
07:58
And one of the leaders shared with me the fact that
08:00
the most impactful development comes
08:03
when you are able to build the emotional stamina
08:05
to withstand people telling you that your new idea
08:08
is naïve or reckless or just plain stupid.
08:13
Now interestingly, the people who will join you
08:17
are not your usual suspects in your network.
08:21
They're often people that think differently
08:25
and therefore are willing to join you
08:28
in taking a courageous leap.
08:31
And it's a leap, not a step.
08:33
More than traditional leadership programs,
08:37
answering these three questions
08:40
will determine your effectiveness
08:42
as a 21st-century leader.
08:43
So what makes a great leader in the 21st century?
08:46
I've met many, and they stand out.
08:51
They are women and men
08:54
who are preparing themselves
08:56
not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday
08:58
but also for the realities of today
09:01
and all of those unknown possibilities of tomorrow.
09:05
Thank you.
09:09
(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Roselinde Torres - Leadership expert
BCG's Roselinde Torres studies what makes great leaders tick -- and figures out how to teach others the same skills.

Why you should listen

Roselinde Torres is a senior partner and managing director at the consulting firm, BCG. A senior leader in the firm’s "people and organization" practice area, she is also the company's resident expert on leadership, a topic she has studied her entire career.

Questions she likes to ask include, "what innovative methods can help prepare the next generation of leaders?" and "how do we enable leaders to unlearn past modes and habits of success?"

Prior to joining BCG in 2006, Roselinde was a senior partner at Mercer Delta Consulting, while she has also led internal consulting teams at Johnson & Johnson and Connecticut Mutual Life. She speaks frequently about organizational transformation and leadership; her work and thinking have been featured in publications such as BusinessWeek and The Economist.

More profile about the speaker
Roselinde Torres | Speaker | TED.com