Leading from the front – how good leaders challenge their organisations

Leading from the front – how good leaders challenge their organisations

“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” – John Maxwell

So…you have walked into an organisation. It looks like it is working okay, but something is not quite right. The systems are great, staff are dedicated, clients engaged, outcomes are being achieved BUT vibrancy is lacking, direction is wavering, a discontent is apparent, there is no sparkle! What is the cause?

Of course, there could be many issues affecting the state of affairs in this organisation… but often it could simply be that leadership within the organisation is misdirected, missing or simply wrong.

This article is not concerning itself with the qualities in individual members of the leadership team (that is, their personalities and their behaviours) but more about how an organisation needs a specific attitude or connection to be evident in its leader or leaders as they relate to the staff in the organisation and stakeholders external to the organisation.

It is often stated that great leaders start off as great followers. That is they watch, learn, explore, build, thrive, innovate and communicate in a way that energises staff and puts them on a course of positivity, enthusiasm, and wanting to be part of shaping the organisation’s future.

From the organisation’s viewpoint this can mean (or should mean), that the leadership is respected and that they are establishing a series of beliefs that are seen as advantageous for the organisation, its staff and anyone who relates to it. Generally organisations want their leader/leaders to make a difference. Organisations need their leaders to have influence.

But how does the organisation ensure its leaders have that ability to influence and then “break the mould”?

Adopting or adapting practices that have been trialled and applied in organisations in other parts of the world may be a way of creating and establishing a differentiated leadership position for the organisation.

Below are some of the characteristics of what an organisation may need in their leader or leaders; some of which may be viewed as high risk, but then, enthusiastically embraced by others?

  • Leaders in an organisation have to earn the right to be a leader, it is not an entitlement.
  • Leaders emerge.
  • Leaders live the culture of the organisation.
  • Leaders shape the vision for the organisation.
  • Leaders require people to follow willingly.
  • Leaders are not necessarily managers/bosses within the organisation.
  • Leaders get the job done.
  • Leaders need to trust people to do the right thing.
  • Leaders need to be able to operate without assumed authority and control.
  • Leaders explain “why things are being done” in the context of value.
  • Leaders explain the reasoning behind decision and actions.
  • Leaders drive decisions and actions through knowledgeable staff.
  • Leaders are influencers.

There are examples of very successful organisations modelling leadership on the above basis. That is, leaders are demonstrating how to influence by their actions, are leading the voice of the organisation, creating new directions, influencing their staff to be willing followers, and leveraging the culture to drive innovation. One innovative approach is allowing staff to vote over who is appointed as their primary leader (their Chief Executive). Rather innovative but obviously works with the staff identifying who they wish to follow and lead them into a future.

Taking all of the above into account, a study undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group produced what they see as requirements of a leader for a contemporary organisation:

He or she…
Intelligence, integrity, and stamina …has these and other traditional indispensable qualities in abundance
An easy familiarity with disruptive products and services …has a passion for and understanding of emerging technologies or has a science background
Digital savvy …is familiar and comfortable with social media and the uses of big data
A track record of innovation …has skilfully devised and implemented new business models within or outside the company, and has introduced new products
Experience in leading a team of peers or even senior staff …has previously had a rapid promotion to leadership position, and has conciliated those who might have felt more entitled to the role
Confidence as a global citizen …can operate comfortably in developed, developing, and emerging markets, and can maintain credible leadership across diverse cultures
An understanding of demographic shifts …is alert to any potentially significant changes in the customer base – age, ethnicity, social class, or professional status – and can shape strategies accordingly, especially for new customer-experience channels
Adaptive leadership traits …has personally embraced and championed disruptions; has demonstrated exceptional curiosity; has self-awareness, social sensitivity, open-mindedness, and courage to act

(Source: BCG analysis.)

An organisation’s demand for leaders to meet the above requirements is insatiable.  The Chief Executive is the pinnacle of operational leadership and the primary driver for so many of the key initiatives which make up a successful organisation.  Therefore ‘leading from the front’ and ‘challenging the organisation’ are significant aspects of contemporary organisational leadership.

If you would like to discuss this article further, contact our consulting team

Email: consulting@cbb.com.au

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