Leadership: when the only answer is to make better decisions


Recently I had a very early morning meeting with one of my mentor’s discussing the changes in leadership within the 4th Industrial Revolution and why leadership, needs to understand the emotional wake of transformation and the time to step down.

Leadership is about defining what the future should look like and getting the board of directors, stakeholders not only to share but develop that future together.

Being trustworthy and selfless; truthful and compassionate – these are wonderful qualities. If leaders consistently displayed these traits, workplaces and employees would be doing much better. But not all leaders, including many of the most famous and successful, exhibit these qualities.

Leadership is getting smarter about work and people and the intersection between them. More and more, working people are telling the truth about topics that they were afraid to talk about openly before. One of the stickiest topics is the quality of leadership found in large and small employers.

We are starting to tell the truth about the fact that most people in leadership positions are lacking in critical skills.

One of the problems with leaders is their ability to listen, at best, or abusive bullies, at worst. Consequently, significant data on workplace bullying report widespread verbal abuse, shouting, berating others, and the creation of a climate of intimidation.

According to a psychology report from the University of California, Berkeley many leaders start to feel powerful, their more benevolent qualities like empathy start to decline.

Other studies show that people in positions of corporate power are three times more likely than lower-level employees to interrupt co-workers, multitask during meetings, raise their voices, and say insulting things.

They don’t know how to talk to their employees and they don’t know how to listen.

If they received any management training at all, they were probably trained to dole out work assignments and evaluate people. They don’t know how to probe for understanding or how to create cohesion on a team.

Organisations have always needed leaders who are good at recognising emerging challenges and inspiring organisational responses. That need is intensifying today as leaders confront, among other things, digitisation, the surging power of data as a competitive weapon, and the ability of artificial intelligence to automate the workplace and enhance business performance.

These technology-driven shifts create an imperative for most organisations to change, which in turn demands more and better leaders up and down the line.

Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that the plethora of services, books, articles, seminars, conferences, and TED-like talks purporting to have the answers—a global industry estimated to be worth more than $50 billion—are delivering disappointing results.

According to a recent Fortune survey, only 7 per cent of CEOs believe their companies are building effective global leaders, and just 10 per cent said that their leadership-development initiatives have a clear business impact.

McKinsey’s latest research has a similar message: only 11 per cent of more than 500 executives we polled around the globe strongly agreed with the statement that their leadership-development interventions achieve and sustain the desired results.

The 4th Industrial Revolution holds the promise of a new era of globalisation, however, many senior executives remain less prepared than they think they are.

A year ago, Deloitte’s inaugural survey assessing private and public sector readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution observed a “tension between hope and ambiguity.”

It found that while executives conceptually understood the profound business and societal changes the 4th Industrial Revolution may bring, they were less certain how they could take action to benefit.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution enables an increasingly globalised world, one in which advanced technologies can drive new opportunities, diverse ideas can be heard, and new forms of communication may come to the fore.

But how are leaders adjusting?

Executives are struggling to develop effective strategies in today’s rapidly changing markets. Faced with an ever-increasing array of new technologies, leaders acknowledged they have too many options from which to choose, and in some cases lack the strategic vision to help guide their efforts.

Organisational influences also challenge leaders as they seek to navigate the 4th Industrial Revolution. Many leaders reported their companies don’t follow clearly defined decision-making processes, and organisational silos limit their ability to develop and share knowledge to determine effective strategies.

Leaders continue to focus more on using advanced technologies to protect their positions rather than as bold investments to drive disruption. Although many of the businesses that have made investments in technology are seeing payoffs, others are finding it difficult to invest even as digital technologies are engendering more global connections and creating new opportunities within new markets and localised economies.

Challenges include being too focused on short-term results and lacking understanding, business cases, and leadership vision.

Leaders acknowledge the ethical implications inherent in new technology, but few companies are talking about how to manage those challenges, let alone actively putting policies in place to do so.

The skills challenge becomes clearer, but so do differences between executives and their millennial workforces.

Last year, most leaders (86%) thought their organizations were doing enough to create a workforce for the 4th Industrial Revolution. This year, as more leaders recognize the growing skills gap, only 47% are confident in their efforts.

On the bright side, twice as many leaders indicate their organisations will do what they can to train their existing employees rather than hire new ones. And they’re more optimistic than last year that autonomous tech will augment, rather than replace, humans.

The journey to get where you are has not been easy. From setting records to surviving recessions, you’ve been there from day one, becoming a leader that’s respected and praised from the board, shareholders and staff.

But somewhere along the way, it all started to change. Now your leadership strategy is getting you nowhere, and you can no longer deny that nagging feeling that something’s just not right.

Recognising that you may not be the best person for the job anymore is incredibly difficult to admit, especially after investing blood, sweat, and tears into the company.
But if that little voice in the back of your head is now shouting at you front and center, it’s a likely scenario that others feel the same way.

Hanging on too long makes you irrelevant. Organisations change. Leaders should change too. You may not be the best person to lead your business forward. The skills that worked yesterday may not work today or tomorrow. Successful leaders know when to move-on. Are your strengths, the right strengths, to lead the organization tomorrow?

How does a leader know when it’s time to step down and hand over the reins?

The most important question a leader should ask is: Are you placing the good of the organisation first? This is what leadership is all about.

Final thought; most CEOs have gotten religion about the impact of accelerating disruption and the need to adapt in response. Time and again, though, we see those same CEOs forgetting about the need to translate strategy into specific organizational capabilities, paying lip service to their talent ambitions, and delegating responsibility to the head of learning with a flourish of fine words, only for that individual to complain later about lack of support from above.

To be fair, CEOs are pulled in many directions, and they note that leadership development often doesn’t make an impact on performance in the short run.

At the same time, we see many heads of learning confronting CEOs with a set of complex interwoven interventions, not always focusing on what matters most.

But as the pace of change for strategies and business models increases, so does the cost of lagging leadership development.

If CEOs and their top teams are serious about long-term performance, they need to commit themselves to the success of corporate leadership-development efforts now.

Chief human-resource officers and heads of learning need to simplify their programs, focusing on what really matters.
As Vince Lombardi, NFL player, coach and executive director once said:

“The leader can never close the gap between himself and the group. If he does, he is no longer what he must be. He must walk a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert.”

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