The challenge for senior leadership teams: how to lead leadership
Impact don’t view leadership as a person or as a particular set of personal qualities – we see leadership as a special and vital form of action. In our view it is only when someone takes leadership action that leadership becomes real. It is what leaders do that counts, not what they say or their position in a hierarchy.
Different organisational levels have different leadership challenges
All organisations need excellent leadership action everywhere in their business. But the leadership challenge is different at each level of the business, reflecting the specific context that leaders face.
Senior leaders are traditionally expected to bear the responsibility for setting the mission, vision and overall strategy of the businesses they lead, with others executing the plan. However, the competitive environment that today’s organisations face is challenging traditional views of the roles and responsibilities of senior leaders. As the role of senior leaders evolves we need to evolve our understanding of how we develop the skills and capabilities of senior leaders to lead.
Old certainties are no longer fit for purpose
The pace of change is increasing and the complexity of the challenges facing organisations is placing new demands on the strategic capabilities of senior leadership teams. The old certainties that framed how business works in the 20th century are no longer fit for purpose in this dynamic, globally connected and digitally transformed world. Historically individuals progressed into the most senior position by conforming to the standards and norms set by a business world that increasingly no longer exists. The instinct of the traditional senior leader is to preserve the status quo just at a time when the status quo is one of the existential threats facing their organisations future. Modern leaders have to find a way of leading their organisations into the unknown.
The ability of all organisations to respond in this VUCA world depends, in part, on agility. We hear a lot about the need for companies to be agile in the face of disruptive threats from technology, from global competition, from the challenges of environmental sustainability and more. But organisations aren’t agile; it is the people in organisations that need to be agile, both in thought and in action. Senior leaders need to lead in an agile way, both to model the approach for their employees and to design strategies, structures and processes that enable agility.
Co-creating the future
Modern senior leaders need to be able to shift their approach from top-down, command and control to a much more inclusive approach that allows leadership to flourish at all levels. One definition of an agile organisation is that leadership is highly distributed and emerges from everywhere. To create inclusive approaches to leadership, senior leaders need to become highly effective not just at collaboration, but at ‘co-pioneering’ - working with a wide range of stakeholders to co-create the future together. This places pressure on the skills of relationship building, negotiation, dialogue, listening and learning. Of these skills learning can be the most challenging. Most senior leaders have gained their position as a result of what they know and maintain their position by applying their knowledge; moving senior leaders from being “knowers” to “learners” is both vital and difficult. Leaders now need to be open to learning, embracing the knowledge held by people throughout their organisation.
Critical to the success of co-pioneering and community building (including building customer communities) is the ability to find genuine common purpose with others inside and outside the organisation. Having a meaningful and compelling purpose that is created alongside stakeholders, which moves well beyond the traditional approaches of mission or vision statements, is vital to employee, customer and stakeholder engagement and business success.
One powerful definition of the type of organisation that is likely to flourish in this new, emergent and uncertain future is an organisation that is worth working for. Such organisations easily attract top talent, win new business, create loyal customers, attract investors and partners and see no distinction between doing well and doing good.
A future-proofing focus for senior leadership teams
In Impact's view building an organisation worth working for should be the focus of all senior teams’ efforts. From this simple starting point organisational leaders can begin to harness the talents, capabilities and resources of their organisations to move towards a 21st century approach to leading.
If we could offer one single piece of advice to all senior leaders to help them respond to the challenges of change and build an organisation worth working for, it is this: learn how to lead leadership in your organisation.
High quality and effective leadership action in organisations doesn’t happen by chance. It happens through the intentional approach of the senior team to define what leadership means in their organisations and to create the conditions through which leadership is developed everywhere.
Impact know how to develop senior teams’ capacity to lead leadership in their organisations. We use our proprietary experiential methodology to custom design learning journeys that unlock new behaviours, new mindsets and new approaches to working in a senior team and leading others. We have worked with senior teams globally, across sectors and industries, helping them to take leadership action to develop leadership in their companies. Our approach is practical, hands-on and as far away from a traditional business school approach as it is possible to get. Our challenging methods are designed to significantly stretch senior leaders to build new capabilities, new perspectives and new behaviours.