Knowledge Center: Publication

Leadership Assessment

Developing leaders for the 21st century: How leaders can mobilize, execute, and transform with agility

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From changing consumer demands to pervasive social media to digital disruption, today’s pace of change and innovation has no precedent. But there are too few leaders equipped to navigate this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. The most common refrain we hear from executives today is, “We need to develop more transformative, agile leaders.” The worry—which for many companies is becoming a reality—is that, without these leaders, the organization will struggle to spot and seize opportunities, lose its competitive edge, and ultimately fail.

So how can companies develop leaders capable of accelerating performance in today’s fast-changing environment? Accelerating performance means building and changing momentum to get results more quickly than competitors. In a world in which capital is effectively priced at zero, value creation resides in the leadership process of harnessing and implementing ideas better and faster than competitors.

Our study of this process, based on decades of work and years of research,1 finds that the single biggest force behind acceleration is the quality of leadership. Top performers are up to four times more productive than their peers, while leadership accounts for as much as 30% of bottom-line performance. Yet many companies say that their leaders rarely elicit the full potential of their people.

As part of our research, we identified four factors that correlate with superior business results and growth that outpaces the competition. Individual leaders either drive accelerated performance or create drag effects through how they mobilize, execute, and transform, and whether they do those things with agility. These four qualities comprise what we call the META framework.

In this paper, we will look more closely at the framework and how it informs the assessment and development of leaders who can outpace shifting demands and accelerate performance. We will review the drive and drag factors for acceleration that underpin META and that, taken together, offer the foundation of a winning set of leadership development and succession strategies. Finally, we will highlight examples of organizations that are using the thinking to identify leadership challenges and shape their approaches—while, along the way, creating meaningful shifts in business performance.

For more on the dimensions of META and their application to leadership development, flip through the interactive report above or click the download button for the PDF.


1 Our study comprised a survey of 20,000 global leaders, investigation into the performance of 3,000 teams, and deep research into the FT 500, including interviews with senior executives at top performers we call “superaccelerators.” For more, see Colin Price and Sharon Toye, Accelerating Performance: How Organizations Can Mobilize, Execute, and Transform with Agility, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2017.

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