For a better future, make your people better

For a better future, make your people better

The skills that define better leadership are changing faster than ever before

Recently I experienced a shift in my business, and I want to share some insights that I think may benefit leaders.

I recognised a need for my organisation to revisit a core activity and do it better. The situation is challenging, but that is okay because it led me to recognise it was time to “upgrade” myself and those I need to help me again.

I am sure that many of you have faced a comparable situation recently. As leaders, we see these things earlier than others, and it becomes our job to bring others along. However, we do not always “invest” sufficiently to help them to succeed, and I do not mean money here.

Because the time younger people spend with our organisation seems to be getting shorter, some leaders may see any investment as wasteful, or potentially just developing skills for the next company for which these people will work.

There has been a rapid change in my business over the last two years. In truth, this change was already under way due to digital transformation, but recent events changed things immensely. Changing customer circumstances demanded accelerated innovation. Changing customer needs meant traditional offerings were obsolete. Does this sound familiar to your business?

So many new theories and approaches popped up that it seemed like the end times for the business. Traditional business customers no longer saw the value of paying for what they had previously paid for. At the same time, they did not yet understand that there were new ways of delivering what they needed.

Industry-wide, there was still no obvious way forward, and companies (including mine) grabbed innovation opportunities but neglected to update the capabilities to drive the more traditional business. We faced a textbook innovator’s dilemma of building the new while protecting the old.

One of my “aha” moments was the need to develop new leadership (for myself, as well as incumbent and new leaders) to achieve what we need as an organisation. Making my people “better” is the only way results will get better.

It sounds obvious but as senior leaders, how much thought and effort do we put into it? We often assume the very competent people we have asked to lead our teams for years will know what to do. But this is a mistake because the game has changed so much recently that even core capabilities are transformed.

For example, my marketing department is unrecognisable from four years ago, and I would not be surprised if that is true again in two years. I have added data and tech teams we did not talk about three years ago. So, I asked myself:

  • How had I prepared my line leaders to deal with transformations like these?
  • How had I prepared them to take advantage of and understand the opportunities new capabilities delivered?

I realised I could and needed to do more. I am sure other leaders feel the same way.

It is clear that many leaders do not possess the mindset and skill sets required for this new journey. It is equally clear that new skill sets and mindsets will not spontaneously emerge. Our leaders (or not enough of them) will not stand up and challenge the rules that have guided our organisations for years. They will not ask for autonomy or recognise the need to develop the leadership skills of those below them.

In my case, I realised that to achieve the shift in business focus in the traditional business I wanted, it would be up to me to “invest” in making them and our future “better”. Here are the lessons I learned:

  • The skills that define better leadership in any organisation is always changing. Senior leaders need to proactively realise this and guide their people to make them better.
  • These skills are changing faster than ever before, and I believe they will continue to do so. It is the senior leaders’ job to understand this context change.
  • Even the best of our existing leaders cannot do it by themselves. They often face new challenges first and need support and development earlier.
  • This is especially true in the core and traditional areas, where established positions, resistance to change and hubris can be damaging. Senior leaders need to cultivate the right mindsets for a different future.
  • Not investing in making people better would not just be foolish but would endanger the future. As a senior leader, I have an obligation to those who come next.

Where to start? In my case, I emulated TV’s Dr Gregory House and became a diagnostician. I took time to recognise what returning to this traditional business differently would need and how my people would need to be “better”.

I then had to commit the resources (including my time and effort) to help them succeed and deliver the results required. It is early days, but it proves the timeless fact for leaders at all levels that it is not a meaningless obligation to help our people be better. It is an investment in our organisation’s future.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at

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