Adding breadth to your talent depth

By Leanne Ansell-McBride

May 7, 2015

Recent research identifying the six megatrends most likely to have the greatest impact on the skills leaders will need to thrive and survive over the next decade was reviewed in last month’s popular leadership blog — the demise of heroic leadership.

Not surprisingly the research highlighted the ability to work with high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity as a critical skill.

Unlike other skills this is not something you can learn in a traditional manner, so what can you do to develop these skills and prepare for the uncertainty the future holds? As leaders we are used to having people look to us for answers and building our level of comfort with not knowing the answers is often a challenge.

At the Victorian Leadership Development Centre we prepare senior executives for this future by adding breadth to their talent depth — identifying and targeting the experiences they need to prepare them for future roles, and taking them outside of their areas of expertise to build their comfort with ambiguity and complexity.

Most large organisations try to build breadth of experience through mobility programs. However, many of these programs fail because they miss the opportunity to deliberately target the individual experiences that will accelerate development for each candidate.  So what can you do to add breadth to your talent depth?

Princeton University professor Philip Tetlock in his book Expert Political Judgement highlights the importance of breadth of experience to inform political judgement.  His research over 20 years showed deep experience results in leaders who “do not change their minds quickly enough” because when they are “confronted with evidence that contradicts their viewpoints, frequently they dismiss it to avoid changing their fixed concepts”.

Moving outside their area of expertise, also provides  leaders with greater perspective and insight helping them to stay agile and innovative. In their HBR article “Sometimes the best ideas come from outside your industry,” professors Poetz, Franke and Schreier assert:

“Bringing in ideas from analogous fields turns out to be a potential source of radical innovation. When you’re working on a problem and you pool insights from analogous areas, you’re likely to get significantly greater novelty in the proposed solutions, for two reasons: People versed in analogous fields can draw on different pools of knowledge, and they’re not mentally constrained by existing, ‘known’ solutions to the problem in the target field. The greater the distance between the problem and the analogous field, the greater the novelty of the solutions.”

To accelerate the development of high potential executives, the VLDC worked with the departmental secretaries, chief commissioner of police and Victorian public sector commissioner to identify the types of experiences they have had, which have helped to build their skills and leadership agility.  We use these experiences to deliberately target the development of the high potential executives in our programs.

What experiences might you need to prepare you for your next leadership role? Follow the links below to assess your own breadth of experience, and identify experiences you could target to build your skills.

This article was originally published at the Victorian Leadership Development Centre’s leadership blog.

Read more at The Mandarin: ‘A safe environment to fail’: when secretaries go to school

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