By John Mattone
In this article, John Mattone discusses how progressive leaders in the business world are moving away from a conventional leadership culture and embracing a collaborative approach to heading up their organisations.
The business world is shifting fast, and progressive CEOs see that they have no choice but to transform. Attempting to cope, they apply their best thinking to the structures, systems, and processes they need to compete. Conventional wisdom says that the right business structures will provide the right efficiencies and agility that they need to succeed and achieve meaningful longevity. But behind closed doors, senior leaders are speaking a different truth. Conventional wisdom? Throw it out the door.
Increasingly, companies are questioning the incessant reorganising, reengineering, and restructuring. Strategies and plans that should work fall apart, yielding less-than-expected results. Operational decisions that once were clear-cut are becoming more complicated and ambiguous.
Worse, many top executives and teams struggle to agree on outcomes – or even common ground – for moving forward. This is because many talented individual leaders with impressive track records fail to collaborate. They don’t know how to work together to understand difficult challenges, much less to resolve them. Instead, they continue to operate in silos and default to traditional boundaries and turf battles.
In short, organisations are stuck; many are failing. Frustrated executives work harder and longer. People at every level are overwhelmed, guarded, and cynical.[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]
What’s the Problem?
Inadequate leadership ability is a huge part of the problem. When I say “leadership” it’s not just a reference to the individual leader. A shift in focus is required from development of the individual, heroic leader, to the realisation that leadership is a collective activity.
Through my research and coaching I have found that the five most important skills and capabilities needed by organisations (and leaders) of the future are among the weakest competencies of today’s individual leaders. Leaders of the future need to be strong in their overall people ‘agility’, strategic planning, ability to inspire commitment, capacity to learn, and ability to lead and manage change.
These findings suggest that organisations should prioritise creating more balance between developing leaders through individual competencies and fostering the collective capabilities of teams, groups, networks, and organisational leadership.
Understanding the Hierarchy of Leadership Culture
Organisations, like people, tend to evolve along a path from reliant to self-sufficient to interconnected. Each level is characterised by a set of beliefs, behaviors, and practices. Each successive culture is more sophisticated and can respond more successfully to deeper challenges. The core reason? They can think, learn, and respond to challenges faster and better.
Reliant leadership cultures only hold the people in positions of authority responsible for leadership. Authority and control are held at the top. Success depends on obedience to authority and loyalty. Mastery and recognition of work operates primarily at the level of technical expertise.
Self-sufficient leadership cultures assume that leadership emerges from a variety of individuals, based on knowledge and expertise. Authority and control are distributed throughout the ranks. Self-sufficient cultures value decentralised decision-making, individual responsibility and expertise, and competition among experts. Other characteristics associated with self-sufficient cultures include:
• Individual performance as an important source of success and status
• An emphasis on taking calculated risks
• Open disagreement
• Independent actions within functions or work groups
Interconnected leadership cultures view leadership as a collective activity requiring mutual inquiry, learning, and a capacity to work with complex challenges. Authority and control are shared based on strategic competence for the whole organisation. This mindset tends toward collaborating in a changing world so that new organisational orders and structures can emerge through collective work. Other characteristics associated with interconnected cultures include:
• The ability to work effectively across organisational boundaries
• Openness and candor
• Multifaceted standards of success
• Synergies being sought across the whole enterprise
Matching the Culture to the Need
One of the most crucial aspects of implementing effective change initiatives is the need to match the leadership culture to the operational need. Asking a command and control (reliant) culture, for example, to implement an innovative, agile strategy is a recipe for disaster. In contrast, an interconnected organisation is better poised to handle a high caliber of complexity and challenge. As a more fluid organisation, it will be able to draw on individual talent, connect effectively across boundaries, and adapt as needed. Developing leadership culture is about growing leadership talent. To break through the current capability ceiling, organisational leaders must take time to connect two critical factors.
First, you have to know where, in the hierarchy of cultures, yours sits. The way leaders engage with each other and with others in the organisation will depend on the leadership logic that dominates. Knowing what your current culture is capable of will save dollars, and more importantly, time. You might leap to implement the next, new thing only to find out your approach was off the mark. Instead, understand where your leadership culture is today to develop feasible change plans.
Second, you must understand the drivers and core capabilities needed for your business strategy to succeed. What future level of leadership culture is needed to support the business strategy? It is the job of leadership to ensure intelligent strategies are wisely implemented. This is possible only when the culture of beliefs and the focus on readiness to develop capability to implement is real. By choosing the right level of culture that your organisation requires for its future, your leadership as a collective can advance to new levels of organisational capability, securing success. When the level of leadership culture aligns with your business strategy, your performance will be stellar.
Collaborative Leadership Means Being Thoughtful
More and more executives tell us they need increasingly collaborative leadership for working effectively across boundaries inside their organisations and across their value chains. In fact, my executive research shows that it is their highest need and yet least effective organisational capability.
If an interconnected culture is needed, but a company is operating at the reliant or self-sufficient level, how does the senior leadership team start to change culture? How does the senior team start to work more effectively across business and functional boundaries? In a counterintuitive move, they need to pause and reflect more – much more.
Pausing and reflection are vital requirements for leading change. By exploring, reflecting, and understanding the sometimes hidden values and beliefs that drive behavior and culture, executives help the organisation to be more nimble and agile in the future.
When leaders and teams pause and reflect effectively, real communication begins to happen that then drives better problem solving and decision-making. Instead of focusing on speed, the emphasis is on learning. Better solutions and more frequent right answers arise. Everyone involved is able to reflect on assumptions, understand problems more clearly, and integrate the perspectives of others.
Leaders who create a culture that values pausing and reflection at key times for learning, diagnosis, and dialogue almost always create powerful, positive momentum. This, in turn, creates accurate, focused, valuable decisions. Time lost on the front end translates into speed further along in the process. Pausing and reflection help reduce organisational missteps (both large and small) due to poor communication, hasty decision making, and the faulty assumptions and beliefs that drive them.
Pausing and reflection is also a powerful cultural change marker. The behaviour in itself signals to everyone that transformation is not only needed but valued.
Different leadership cultures serve different purposes. However, as companies face change, they need to invest intentionally in a leadership culture that will match the unfolding challenge. The beliefs that drive leadership behaviours need to align with the operational business strategy. Without that alignment, painful gaps appear in the individual leadership skill set as well as the organisation’s collective leadership capability. In contrast, when executives change their leadership culture, they are rewarded with significant, sustainable outcomes.
Thoughtful and deliberate attempts to foster and sustain the appropriate, relevant leadership culture given the current and anticipated demands and challenges your organisation faces will, in the end, determine your transformation success or failure.
About the Author
John Mattone is an authority on leadership, talent, and culture. An acclaimed speaker and executive coach, he advises Fortune 1000 senior leaders on how to create cultures that drive superior operating results. He is the author of eight books including Cultural Transformations, Talent Leadership, and Intelligent Leadership. John is the creator of numerous business assessments, including the Mattone Leadership Enneagram Inventory.