Leaders falling short

Selecting the right leader for any organisation is critical. As the dust settles on the UK general election, it seems an opportune time to reflect on the way that the role of corporate leaders has changed and look at what makes them successful. Is it their policies and vision, or their expertise and experience? Or perhaps their personal qualities and ability to win hearts and minds? Jean Martin, executive director at CEB, explores.

Where leaders fall short

Many businesses would argue that they are more level-headed than the voting public when selecting and developing leaders, and their methods more objective. Yet, their track record of appointing the right people in these roles is far from perfect. CEB research shows that nearly half – some 46 percent – of leaders moving into new roles fail to meet their business objectives. What’s more, only 27 percent of managers report that their leaders are equipped to handle the future needs of the organisation.

It is clear that traditional leadership programmes aren’t working and that leaders today are falling short of expectations. What is going wrong?

In today’s interconnected and always changing environment, leaders need to think and act in the best interest of the overall enterprise rather than in the narrow interests of their own business unit. Bosses have historically risen through the ranks by achieving individual targets for themselves and their teams, but this is no longer enough.

Our research shows that those who lead their teams to high performance and hit all targets in their own business units only moderately improve profitability and revenue growth.

Driving success: Enterprise Leaders

The most successful leaders are those who also contribute to and leverage the performance of other teams. The leaders that have shifted their mind-sets, activities and behaviours from individual results to organisational results, are what we call “Enterprise Leaders”. Those that take this approach have a significant and positive impact on company-wide growth numbers, but they also achieve better success for themselves.

We have analysed thousands of leaders and have identified the three characteristics that differentiate Enterprise Leaders:

  1. They take from – and give to – their peers: Enterprise Leaders take a different approach to achieving success. Rather than hitting goals through their own personal effort, they also take successful ideas and approaches that other leaders have used and apply them in their own part of the business. They are also generous at giving their ideas (and employees) to other parts of the firm to drive results.
  1. They push—and pull—team contributions: Enterprise Leaders actively find innovations that are happening deep in the organisation and pull those ideas up to spread them across the company. While they still push work down to others, they balance the push and pull.
  1. They facilitate—rather than direct—team performance: The reality for most leaders today is that they have very little insight into the day-to-day work of their employees. Most leaders today would struggle if they had to do the job of their employees, not because they are bad or incapable, but because the way work gets done – with changes in technology and remote working – is dramatically different than when they had the role. Enterprise Leaders embrace this reality by shifting from telling employees what to do and how to do to it, to connecting them with other solutions and support across the organisation. Rather than directing employees on how to do their jobs, they make it easier for them.

Changing the mindset for HR 

Given the differences that distinguish Enterprise Leaders from others, many HR teams will find that their approach to identifying and training leaders needs to shift. Rather than simply measuring leaders on their past performance and traditional leadership competencies, like strategic vision and communication, they now need to directly measure and cultivate leaders’ ability to build, activate and leverage networks.

Leadership is vital but the role has changed over time; success is now dependent on working together. The right people at the top can make the difference between growth and stagnation, or even decline of a firm. Given the high stakes of poor leadership, companies cannot afford to leave the selection, development and performance of their leaders to chance.

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