Leadership for sustainable success

Lessons learned part 3

Introduction

The first two articles in this series summarised our reflections on seven elements of sustainable success, the functions of leadership and the requirement for distributed leadership through all levels of an organisation. We have summarised these reflections in the

framework shown in figure 1. We believe this provides a broad view of what is required of

leaders to deliver sustainable success. In this article, we take a deeper look at the

behaviours required. But first, let’s explore the thinking behind a phrase shared in the

earlier articles:



Confidence, belief and trust

To quote (an adapted) famous poem, "No person is an island, entire of itself every

person is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." In the same vein, a leader’s success is

intertwined with the success of their stakeholders. For leaders at the pinnacle of an

organisation, the range of stakeholders is often at its broadest - spanning customers,

suppliers, employees, investors/funders, peers, direct reports, community, planet,

predecessors, successors, and more.


Whilst not all stakeholders have the same interest and/or influence, we must be careful

not to focus too narrowly on any single stakeholder. History, and indeed the present

day, is littered with examples of stakeholders who have been disadvantaged for short term

gain and are fighting back hard to ‘overthrow' leadership, or by removing their custom,

supply and/or support for the organisation.

More subtly, when first working with clients, we sometimes hear expressed first - hand the resistance to change attempted by previous leadership. "Hmmm, vanity and ego. That was [insert name]’s biggest downfall and why we never quite believed in what they were trying to do.” And yet, something stopped these concerns from being expressed until said leader had left. On occasion, we come across examples where the opposite is true, where there somehow exists a desire to pick up the journey from previous leadership.

To us, and others, it is clear that leading for sustainable success requires leaders to establish, build and maintain confidence, belief and trust for their stakeholders (current and future). Confidence in their capabilities as a leader. Belief in the direction that they are taking the organisation. And trust that they will deliver on these expectations and results.

With this in mind, take a moment to consider:

  • Who are your key stakeholders?

  • What does success look like for them?

  • And, what behaviours will you demonstrate to enable and support their confidence, belief and trust in you as a leader?

Key behaviours for leading sustainable success

We have previously commented on the need for leaders to be the masters of seven

elements of sustainable success. Now, we share our observations on the behaviours of

leaders (the 'they' in the commentary below) that enable them to deliver effectively the

elements.


Aligning hearts, minds and actions

They recognise the importance of communication, especially listening. They

engage their team and their organisation in clarifying and renewing purpose, values,

vision, and strategy in a clear operating framework (see figure 2).

In doing so, they help to clarify what it is that the organisation does and does not do (both

now and in the future), empowering teams and individuals to deliver with clear

accountability and autonomy They capture learning to renew thinking.



As an example, when asking a client to reflect on their greatest learning from the pandemic,

they replied: "The need to provide people with a clear sense of purpose. We kept asking

ourselves : How can we keep our people safe? How can we protect the business? How can we ready ourselves for the future? This brought the team closer together and we are now

collaborating more. I have seen them doing similar with their own teams. The trick will be

to ensure we continue to have this same sense of engagement and purpose when the crisis is over."


Investing in their co-leaders

They recognise their own success is dependent on the success of their team, and ultimately

their own successor. They ensure the people in their team complement their own strengths.

They invest in these people to equip, challenge, motivate and empower them to perform. They create opportunities to connect strategic initiatives and activities, encouraging people

outside their direct team to step up and lead. They appropriately balance the different hats

(boss, peer, coach, mentor) that they need to wear to achieve this. They give (and receive)

feedback that develops people’s confidence and competence.

To illustrate this, we worked with a new leader who had an opportunity to refresh their

leadership team. We supported them and their team to renew their strategy. They established collective goals that reinforced a view that if one of the team failed, they all failed. During the work, we used a psychometric tool to measure individual’s growth mindset (Mindset Advantage), helping each team member to consider their mindset and what they needed to develop to be successful in their role. Based on the feedback they received from the tool and their peers, each person committed to clear actions to improve.

The approach enabled much higher levels of disclosure, established a clear understanding of the strengths that they each brought to the table and removed previously existing siloed

thinking. Such was the impact of the approach that the leadership team members now plan

to roll it out with their own teams.


Creating a collaborative environment

They help to clarify the behaviours that will create and sustain organisational success,

placing a strong emphasis on customers, innovation, learning and performance. They

make it safe for people to step up and speak out, encouraging people to be hard on the

issue and kind on the person. They role model these behaviours acknowledging and owning

up to their own mistakes.

During the pandemic, a client engaged us to support a leadership group responsible for a new service line that had been drawn together from various parts of the business. The initial integration process had seen a bumpy start, resulting in low levels of trust and collaboration A significant focus of the intervention was to establish relationships, build understanding, clarify what success looked like for individuals and help the leadership of a new function to adapt to a new working context. During the final session of the intervention, one of the team commented, "You’ve taken us on a real journey We are already feeling and seeing the results in our client conversations from the new level of trust and mutual support that now exists. We’ve addressed some of the tougher issues and are in a great place to grow our part of the business.”


Taking decisions with the long-term in mind

Whilst they promote collaboration and consensus, they embrace the responsibility

and accountability of their own role. They are not afraid to confront reality and deal with ambiguity. They hold central the needs of the organisation and all stakeholders. In making

decisions, they seek to balance the functions of leadership (managing the present, creating

the future and nurturing identity) to improve performance and strengthen the long-term

future of the business.

A final client example to share. A Divisional Leader of a large multinational firm was

facing market challenges that were putting pressure on margins. They recognised that

the route to success, and extending competitive advantage, was not about competing on price or seeking new ways to reduce cost, but about leading with customer centricity. A journey that would take several years, not weeks or months. Such was their conviction to this strategic decision that they enlisted the support of two boards, navigating substantial changes within these boards and a change in ownership. It was the unknowns of this latter opportunity that helped accelerate efforts to operationalise customer centricity. The top 24 leaders across functions and countries engaged in new ways of working together to make sure the business had the agility to make more informed decisions for customers. This included the development of a new operating and cultural framework that has been embedded into the ongoing planning process for the organisation. To further assure the continuity of the strategy, our client has briefed their successor on how to steward the business through the transition: charting the journey taken and lessons learned.


Reflections

In the next article in this series, we will look at the personal characteristics that support and enable these behaviours. In the meantime, we invite you to reflect on your own leadership behaviours and the extent to which they are contributing to, or hindering, your sustainable success.


Leadership for sustainable success, Lessons learned - part 3

Written by Adam Campbell, Senior Consultant at Telos Partners

31 January 2022


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