Major business, societal and technological disruptions – punctuated by the global pandemic – have been characterized as a “time machine to the future.” By April 2020, global companies, such as IBM, were reporting that nearly 100 percent of their several-hundred-thousand-strong workforces were remote. Across numerous industries, companies accelerated multi-year digital transformation initiatives within the span of a few weeks. And hierarchal management models increasingly shifted to more agile team-based structures to sufficiently respond to events on the ground, thereby increasing the demand for leaders.

Organizations have always needed effective leaders to inspire action and manage change. To thrive in this new world of work, however, we’re challenged to develop higher-quality, more agile and more diverse leadership – at all organizational levels.

Likewise, high-performing teams have always mattered. Today, however, our teams are the epicenter of innovation, engagement and inclusivity (or the reverse) – requiring new capabilities, data and tools to support decision-making and collaboration.

Finally, human-centered leadership has always been valued. Developing empathetic leaders with high emotional, relational and team intelligence is a strategic imperative, particularly as issues such as employee well-being, resilience, psychological safety and belonging take center stage.

Data-driven Approaches in Leadership Development

Modern leadership requires new approaches to the way leaders and their teams navigate this rapidly evolving, often ambiguous landscape. This includes new data-driven approaches to leadership development and elevating the role leaders play in shaping culture by leveraging technology, data and tools in the flow of work.

Not surprisingly, traditional approaches to leadership development – i.e., disproportionately focused on executive leaders, high-touch, instructor-led, off-site, content-driven programs – are increasingly less effective or simply not scalable in the current environment. Participants often struggle to transfer these experiences into more effective leadership behaviors on the front lines. Research also continues to show that behaviors acquired in off-site settings are easily forgotten once leaders return to their natural work environments.

Deloitte Consulting correctly suggests that the predominant shift in leadership development programs today will be moving from a traditional content-driven approach to a more dynamic context-driven approach:

“Context-based approaches use the real-life problems of the organization as the ‘living case study.’ They operate in the real and relevant context of the business, erasing the claim that learning and ‘work’ are separate. Therefore, as the business changes, so do the leadership experiences. Context-based development prioritizes the ‘learn as you work, work as you learn’ philosophy, always striving to solve actual problems as leaders simultaneously grow their capabilities. The potential benefit of this type of methodology is that you can create a simultaneous and effective impact—solving the challenges of the business while learning at the same time.”

A recent example from health care supports this shift of delivering development opportunities in the flow of work. A physician leader at a large hospital was struggling with a noncompliant direct report. Communication was breaking down around an important project. The leader compared his psychometric “portrait” with that of his colleague and discovered that both their conflict management styles were characterized as strongly “competing,” rather than collaborating. Naturally, this contributed to their vigorous debates and disagreements on a wide-range of initiatives.

The physician leader shared his diagnosis and insights with his executive coach. Together, they identified ways to enhance communication with the direct report. According to the coach, “The leader used psychometric data to better understand the underlying dynamics of the relationship with his direct report. As a result, we could focus our time together on prescriptive solutions around communication, feedback and collaboration rather than diagnosis. Ultimately, we accelerated a breakthrough, and the leader greatly improved his relationship with the direct report.”

A senior human resources (HR) professional adds: “Psychometric data is powerful because it is multifaceted. We’re not just looking at one dimension of a human being; we’re looking at the whole person – everything from how you show up, to what motivates you, to how you react under pressure. These are important dimensions for leaders to understand not only about themselves but about the impact that has on others.”

What the Right Data Set Can Do for Your Team

Psychometric data is equally applicable to teams. For example, a 30-year industry veteran observes: “If I have psychometric data, I can go to a team and immediately have conversations about the makeup of that team, including the team’s strengths and blind spots, how balanced or unbalanced that team is and how to optimize that team’s composition for performance.” He adds, “When I was a practicing clinical psychologist, I would do the inkblot test and that would accelerate my understanding of somebody by about six months. Similarly, by examining psychometric data, I accelerate my understanding of that team – and the root causes of certain dynamics – significantly.”

Furthermore, a medical research company used aggregate psychometric data to design a more effective curriculum for scientists who likely would assume positional leadership roles as future heads of its research labs. The organization identified the cohort’s top attributes, blind spots and development needs and created a year-long program comprised of curated microlearning and macrolearning content. This data-driven approach to developing leaders at scale – with the ability to access just-in-time, just-in-need micro content and tools in the flow of work through a platform – supports a continuous learning culture.

In addition to psychometrics, a comprehensive understanding of workforce experience is another critical data set for leaders. Recent disruptions demonstrate how quickly the experience of employees can shift, yet a relatively low percentage of organizations measure workforce experience more than once a year. Deloitte Consulting observes, “Whatever workforce measures might have indicated prior to these [2020] disruptions, they have most likely changed. As a result, we recommend increased frequency of workforce experience measurement…to maintain an accurate, up-to-date picture of your workforce experience.”

A manufacturing company recently surveyed its entire global workforce across multiple indices. The organization scored high around the quality of its leadership but low around coaching and managerial skills. Leaders were great at communicating vision, but employees sought a greater one-on-one connection with their immediate managers. Survey results were further correlated with leaders’ psychometric assessments to generate prescriptive recommendations for each manager around enhancing relational skills, strengthening one-on-one relationships with team members and developing desired behaviors.

In an environment where leaders and managers have a responsibility to support employee well-being, psychological safety and belonging, developing these essential capabilities around emotional, relational and team intelligence is more important than ever. And focusing on a small number of leadership behaviors necessary for success results in better outcomes, research shows.

Emotional, Relational and Team Intelligence

Most of us are familiar with the concept of emotional intelligence (EI). One of the foundational aspects of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. This includes an awareness of our own emotional states, an understanding of how those emotional states impact others and the ability to manage our emotions. With this self-knowledge, we can connect more meaningfully and deeply in relationships.

Relational intelligence is emotional intelligence turned outward. Relational intelligence speaks to our ability to be aware about how we affect others and how their emotional states might be affecting us. This enables us to act with empathy, to interact with and resolve conflict, and motivate and persuade others in ways that have impact.

Team intelligence is emotional intelligence applied in a team setting. Having good team intelligence includes the ability to assess and manage the emotional states of the team. This allows a leader to anticipate roadblocks to communication, resolve conflict and recognize and honor team members’ unique contributions. Team intelligence also helps colleagues nurture and support one another so they can reach their full potential. Having team intelligence enables leaders to facilitate psychological safety, the hallmark of high-performing teams.

Empower Leaders with Data

When McKinsey & Company amassed systematic data on the interventions that drove effective leadership development programs, two sets of interventions were most impactful, statistically speaking, namely (1) focusing on the leadership behaviors most critical to performance, based on context and (2) ensuring leadership development interventions reached all organizational levels.

If our current and future leaders are to succeed as stewards of culture, engagement, innovation and inclusion, we need to provide highly personalized development opportunities in the flow of work that simultaneously address real problems and high-priority organizational needs. Increasingly, this requires that we empower leaders at all organizational levels with access to data, resources and tools and help them develop those essential capabilities that drive sustained impact in our new world of work.