Leadership development often focuses on C-suite members—and those poised to break into the upper echelons of a company. But, that strategy misses an integral pool of talent: frontline managers, directors and team leaders.
The consequences of neglecting the development of these vital leaders have started evincing themselves during the pandemic, says Katy Tynan, author and principal at Forrester. She will explore the value of leadership development outside of the C-suite during next month’s Spring HR Technology Conference.
Before then, HRE caught up with Tynan to discuss her unique career path and how that has informed her outlook on the future of leadership development.
HRE: What attracted you to the field of talent development?
Tynan: I actually started off my career in IT, by accident. I have a psychology degree but got into IT because I like fixing things and I saw an interesting opportunity there. After about five years, I realized that most of the challenges people were facing had nothing to do with the technology. You could bring in great software or roll out the most amazing wide area network or make your solution the most secure, but that didn’t help people make better decisions.
So much of what we do relies on change management, on leadership, on communication, on human behavior. So, I made this gradual shift from being a tech-centered person to a person who helps organizations understand how to use technology to do the things they’re trying to do and then finally into the leadership and talent development space. It’s not a path everyone takes but it’s given me grounding on both sides of the equation. I’ve worked in tech and sat late at night in the dark trying to fix things from across the world. And I’ve also sat in board rooms and with C-suite and HR folks to help them understand talent development and engagement.
Those are important perspectives and they’ve made me see that HR and IT need to get much, much closer in the future. Tech and talent are at that fundamental intersection right now. We need people to be able to do their best work, and a lot of that work is happening in that “technosphere.” The more tech people and talent people can come together, the better.
HRE: How do you think the pandemic will ultimately reshape traditional approaches to leadership development?
Tynan: A lot of leadership development is founded in fundamental psychology and human behavior. So, so much of it is not about whether we’re in the same room together or far apart, or whether we’re using technology or talking face to face. The fundamental principles of good leadership development don’t change because of the pandemic specifically.
With that said, we have a lot of entrenched aspects of how work is done that are legacies from the Industrial Revolution: this eight-hour workday, the idea of full-time employment, which create these rigid boxes. One of the things I think the pandemic exposed was that a lot of these practices just aren’t compatible with how we work, how we live, how we communicate and just how we do stuff today. So, I hope the pandemic has made a lot of organizations rethink some of these ideas.
One of the most pervasive myths is that we all have to be together in the same room in order to innovate and collaborate. It’s pretty clear based on research but also what we’ve been seeing with the pandemic that this just is not the case. My hope is that we end up with more open-mindedness about how we can make work happen—and if the result is that we don’t all sit in traffic for two hours a day each way, I’ll be the most ecstatic person.
HRE: What is the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Tynan: I’ll tell you the leadership advice I give. I have done a lot of leadership development programming and worked with emerging and established leaders. At some point, there’s always a moment where you see people starting to feel overwhelmed by the theories, techniques and practices—all the things I teach people to make them better leaders. At the point where I see their eyes start to glaze over, I always say the same thing: “You can forget everything I tell you—absolutely everything—as long as you remember that your job as a leader is to care about the success of the people on your team. If everything you do is grounded in that, you’ll be fine.” There’s a lot to teach about leadership development—I’m not saying there aren’t ways people can learn to be better leaders, there absolutely are. But everything has to be grounded in that concept of caring about people and their success and understanding how you can help them grow and be successful over time.