What is enterprise leadership?
In this increasingly volatile world, enterprise leadership has become an essential attribute for any successful organisation. But what exactly is it? Enterprise leadership perceives an organisation as a whole rather than as a set of separate functions or departments. It requires a mindset that recognises and appreciates the work of others, regardless of their position, job title or life experience. It understands that leading through volatility and complexity won’t be achieved by one individual alone. It manifests itself in behaviours that incline towards the common good, with decisions based on what is best for the organisation rather than for one’s function.
Enterprise leaders expand their traditional vertical view – leading downwards and looking upwards for guidance – to a horizontal perspective that takes in what is happening across the whole business. They frame challenges as opportunities and cultivate an approach that embeds curiosity and cross-functional collaboration into the organisational culture. In turn, these leaders encourage their people to be interested in learning about the business as a whole and the work of other functions. Successful enterprise leaders are also adept at explaining their decision-making and helping their people understand why certain decisions are better for the whole organisation, even if not for them individually in the short term.
Enterprise leadership in action
Impact has been working with a world-leading insurance and investment bank for the last 2.5 years to cultivate enterprise leadership through a 9-month senior leadership development experience. The financial services sector has seen tremendous disruption in recent years, mainly from start-up organisations providing financial technology directly to consumers. In response, our client requested a partnership that would activate senior leaders in their organisation to take stock, rethink, and work differently – to consider ‘What else can we offer? What do our customers want and need? How do we disrupt ourselves?’
They recognised this as a learning and growth opportunity, one that required an enterprise leadership mindset. The resulting learning experience thrust the senior leaders into real enterprise-wide situations, focusing on issues that required an intimate understanding of the realities of each other’s functions and organisations. The experience was a catalyst for those enterprise leadership behaviours to form and begin to have an impact.
Today, the business is innovating at a speed they didn’t think possible three years ago. Nagging pain points are now being identified with laser focus and resolved swiftly, not through a top-down approach but through senior leaders proactively reaching out to their colleagues from across the enterprise to influence and actualise bold strategies. In almost every example they shared with us, there was a sacrifice of the parts to benefit the whole. They also reflected that the architects of these bold changes were more equipped and motivated to lead the needed changes in their functions and teams.
When the only constant changes, organisations of all kinds need leaders who understand how challenges affect the whole business and can work collaboratively to help each other adapt and respond. This kind of agile, collective decision-making is more likely to happen when human-centred connections exist between people. Indeed, when diverse colleagues already have trust, respect and rapport established between them, they can move on opportunities faster because they understand each other: they know each other’s thinking, they understand each other’s values, and they understand that they don’t need to scrutinise each other’s intentions.
A human-centred approach can be a powerful catalyst for developing enterprise leadership. Human-centred organisations are founded on the recognition that they exist for people. They are concerned by how people of all types engage with and experience their organisation – whether they are customers, employees, or suppliers. This approach requires broad oversight of the organisation as a whole and an awareness of how situations impact different people in different ways.
Other behaviours that can motivate a shift towards enterprise leadership include Impact’s positioning around Leadership as Action. This proposition does not perceive leadership as a personality trait or innate characteristic; instead, it embraces that we all have different lived experiences. It sees leadership as something that can be undertaken by anyone who can scan a situation, notice that there is a leadership vacuum, decide to do something about it, and act. This form of leadership is accessible and democratic – anyone can do it, regardless of hierarchy, job title, or pay grade. By practising this and getting good at scanning situations, and noticing when there are challenges, opportunities, or vacuums, we become accustomed to noticing what is happening across the business more broadly.
Enterprise leadership is an increasingly vital approach for organisations that want to not only survive these volatile times but also thrive in them. At Impact, we believe that the path to successful enterprise leadership is found by cultivating an inclusive culture based upon human connection and providing a psychologically safe space for everyone to take action when needed.
What would be the benefit of having enterprise leaders in your organisation?
Manuel Larenas is a Senior Consultant at Impact Americas.