Successfully navigating in dynamic and ambiguous contexts towards a goal that inspires stakeholders.
For the average listed company, approximately 70% of its value is derived from expectations of the value of its future earnings; yet the future is increasingly uncertain and dynamic. The greater the confidence that investors have in the ability of the firm and its leadership to successfully navigate in the murky future, the higher the valuation of the firm. To lean-forward into the unknown future and to position and equip the organization for greater future success is the most important challenge of a High Impact Leader.
This is the third article in my series looking at the characteristics of High Impact Leaders:Leaders that make a difference. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/want-high-impact-leader-heres-what-takes-dr-steve-wyatt
The High Impact Leader “competes for today whilst preparing and investing for greater success tomorrow” (ref. Derek Abell, founding president of ESMT); they are able to:
Future relevant Strategic Insight is derived from being sensitive to the mega-trends, disruptive forces, technologies and conventional and unconventional players that are reshaping the context in which the organization is and could be operating. Having a far-sighted perspective to see beyond the present to the possibilities to come and yet also being near-sighted to see the details of what is happening now and can be improved upon.
High Impact Leaders challenge existing thinking; their own and that of others, they seek to identify biases and assumptions that colour future projections from the past behaviours and contexts. They have the courage to make clear, well informed decisions and commit to a strategic plan. But, more than this they are also able to hold the tension between the determined pursuit of the strategic plan and review and adjustment of the initiatives as the actual future unfolds. They invest in “agility” in order to enable the organization to move from one position of ‘Transient Competitive Advantage’(ref. Rita Gunther McGrath) to the next. They do not mistake ‘agility’ as a substitute for insight nor the commitment to pursue clear strategic plans (ref. the “fallacy of ‘Detachment” according to Henry Mintzberg).
As Roger Martin (until recently the Dean at Rotman and an ex-colleague from Monitor Group) pointed out in his book ‘Opposable Mind’, successful leaders are capable of holding the tension between seemingly opposing options, and to seek solutions that are integrative of both objectives (e.g. optimizing results today whilst investing for tomorrow; committing to a clear strategic plan whilst also investing in agility). The ability to hold the tensions between seemingly conflicting objectives, to be integrative in their thinking (this is often described as the ability to act ‘ambidextrously’; ref. Tushman and O’Reilly) is one of the distinguishing skills of High Impact Leaders.
The most important factor driving employee motivation is a shared sense of Purpose (i.e. the Mission of the organization), according to a recent report by McKinsey & Co. Purpose and Meaning are more important to employee motivation and engagement than financial incentives, once an adequate threshold for income has been achieved. (ref. Daniel Pink, his book “Drive”). Achieving successful implementation and maintaining a high performance organization requires engaging hearts and minds; not only in a transformation journey but also continuously, for day-by-day performance. Engaged employees use their discretionary effort, they pick up on relevant information and are more likely to exhibit initiative and creativity. According to Aon Hewitt, engaged employees are more likely to Say (positive messaging that reinforces behaviour) – Stay (reduced staff turnover, career path discussions) – Strive (performance and transparency), which leads to better outcomes for the employees and for the organization. Yet shockingly less than 20% of employees at many firms are found to be highly engaged, (I refer you to the info-graphic at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-fermin/13-disturbing-facts-about_b_6140996.html and to the punchy article by Fast Company http://www.fastcompany.com/3009012/the-costs-of-ignoring-employee-engagement). High Impact Leaders ensure that the Purpose/Mission that their organization pursues is relevant and motivating to all the stakeholder groups, including employees.
Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, recently noted “Today: big companies are distrusted”. And decreasingly, financial and growth metrics of an organization are regarded as meaningful motivators of the management cadre, and even less so for the overall workforce. In his speech, he also pointed towards a solution noting that; “Governments and global institutions are failing to address the world’s challenges”. An increasing number of global firms have more revenue than nation states and reach more customers than the population of even major countries (Facebook is reported to now have more active users than the 1.3 bn population of China). There is the opportunity and the need for firms to define their Purpose and Mission to address major societal issues, to step into the void left by national and global institutions; this is good business, engages employees and stakeholders and is good for society.
A related concept of leadership is that of ‘servant leadership’ (ref. Adam Grant’s book ‘Give and Take: A revolutionary approach to success’), in which the success of the organization is a bi-product of serving a societal need and the success of the leader is a bi-product of recognising and serving the needs of different stakeholder groups. To quote Robert Greenleaf, (regarded as the founder of modern thinking on servant leadership, ref. "The Institution as Servant") “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible”.
High Impact Leaders thrive on the tension between the pursuit of winning strategies and agility, migrating from one position of transient advantage to the next; they establish Purpose and Mission that motivates employees and addresses societal challenges. They lean-forward into the murky future and accelerate performance growth. They make a ‘ding in the universe’.
Quick Check: What’s the level of engagement and motivation in your organization? Is there a strong sense of purpose that pervades and excites the workforce? Are you investing for tomorrow’s performance whilst also delivering results today? Is your organization forward leaning, future orientated or are you projecting from the past?
Snap to Action: Restate the mission / purpose of your organization and actually go and explain to a working adult under 25 years-old why they should dedicate the next 20 years of their life to that cause. Repeat that 4 times and reflect on their reactions.
This is the third article in my series looking at the characteristics of High Impact Leaders:Leaders that make a difference.
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A business consultant and educator; focusing on global and regional firms operating in multiple fast changing contexts. Dr. Steve has consulted with major corporations on strategies and operations globally, Asia, Western Europe and UK. Dr. Steve is also an accomplished executive trainer and educator, with particular depth of experience in business strategy and management practice in Asia.