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Senior leadership teams: how to lead leadership

Senior leadership teams: how to lead leadership
Published: June 1, 2021
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Impact don’t view leadership as a type of person or a particular set of qualities; instead we understand leadership to be a special and vital form of action. In our opinion, it is only when someone takes leadership action that leadership becomes real. It's what leaders do that counts.

Different organisational levels have different leadership challenges

Strong leadership action is vital across the whole of a business, but the leadership challenge varies at each level, reflecting the specific context that each leader faces.

Traditionally, senior leaders are expected to take responsibility for establishing the mission, vision and overall strategy of the business, with others executing the plan. However, the competitive environment that today’s organisations face is challenging traditional ideas about the responsibilities of senior leaders. As the role of senior leader evolves, we need to adjust our understanding of how we develop their skills and capabilities to lead.

Old certainties are no longer fit for purpose

The pace of change is increasing and the complexity of the challenges we face is stretching the strategic capabilities of senior leadership teams. Old ideas about how business works are no longer fit for purpose in this dynamic, globally connected, and digitally transformed world. The instinct to conform to standards and preserve the status quo is unhelpful at a time when the status quo is one of the existential threats facing every organisation’s future. Instead, modern leaders have to find a way to lead their organisations into the unknown.

The ability of a leader to respond to this VUCA world depends, partly, on agility. We often hear about the need for organisations to be agile in the face of disruption from technology, global competition, and the need for sustainability. But organisations aren’t agile; it’s the people within them that need to demonstrate agility, both in thought and in action. Senior leaders must lead in an agile way, both to model this approach and to design strategies, structures and processes that enable it.

Co-creating the future

Modern senior leaders need to be able to shift their approach from top-down leadership to a more inclusive approach that enables leadership to flourish at all levels. An agile organisation is one in which leadership is highly distributed and emerges from everywhere. To create inclusive approaches to leadership, senior leaders must become effective not only at collaboration, but also at ‘co-pioneering’ – working with a broad range of stakeholders to co-create the future together. This requires skills in relationship building, negotiation, dialogue, listening and learning. Of all of these, learning can be the most challenging. Most senior leaders will have gained their position as a result of their knowledge and will have maintained their position by applying it, so transforming senior leaders from ‘knowers’ into ‘learners’ is both vital and difficult. Leaders need to be open to learning, embracing the knowledge held by those around them.

Critical purpose

Critical to the success of co-pioneering and community building is the ability to find genuine common purpose with others, both inside and outside the organisation. Having a clear, co-created purpose that exceeds traditional 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 thrive in this new, emergent and uncertain world is an organisation that is worth working for. Such organisations easily attract top talent, win new business, foster loyal customers, engage 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 here, leaders can start to harness the talents, capabilities and resources of their organisations in order to move towards a 21st century approach to leading.

If we were to offer one piece of advice to all senior leaders, it is this: learn how to lead leadership in your organisation.

High-quality, effective leadership action doesn’t happen by chance; it happens through the intentional efforts of the senior team to define what leadership means in their organisation and to foster the conditions through which it can be developed.

Impact know how to develop senior teams’ capacity to lead leadership in their organisations. We use our experiential methodology to custom design learning journeys that liberate new behaviours, fresh mindsets and innovative approaches to working in a senior team and leading others. We have worked with senior teams globally, across a broad range of sectors and industries, helping them to take the leadership action needed to develop leadership in their organisations. Our approach is practical and hands-on, and our challenging methods are designed to significantly stretch senior leaders to build new capabilities, new perspectives and new behaviours.

Learn more about Impact's approach to leadership.