“Leadership is like a muscle. The more intelligently you train, the stronger you get.”
CCL President and CEO John Ryan is a big believer in giving leaders a serious workout.
Based on our research and practical experience, as well as Ryan’s 40 years of leadership in the military, higher education, and nonprofits, we advise senior leaders to step up their leadership training in 5 areas:
1. Teamwork and collaboration. This is critical for organizations in 2 ways.
Internally, you won’t get much done without it. Externally, you need partnerships with like-minded organizations that advance your strategy, whether it’s developing new products or breaking into emerging markets.
But fostering teamwork isn’t easy. In a recent study, 97% of senior executives told us that collaboration is a key factor in organizational success. But less than half believed the leaders in their organizations are skilled collaborators.
2. Managing change. In our work, we’ve found a few key principles for tackling change.
First, view change positively and with a sense of urgency. There’s no point in fearing change since it’s inevitable and we can’t control it.
Second, focus on adapting plans to external pressures as necessary. During the last recession, some organizations stubbornly stuck with their plans, believing things would return to normal quickly. Others saw a sea change in the marketplace and adjusted their performance plans accordingly.
Third, it’s important to manage the resistance to change from your colleagues. It’s your role and responsibility to help them understand what’s going on externally and why your organization needs to adapt. Be sure to involve others in the design and implementation of major change initiatives, whether it’s a workforce restructuring or a new product development process.
3. Communication. As an executive with a demanding schedule, it’s easy to be cut off from the rest of the organization.
We can all learn a lesson from A.G. Lafley, the retired CEO of Procter & Gamble. He was a great listener, often visiting consumers in their homes or joining them for trips to the store. In addition to being P&G’s CEO, Lafley also established himself as the company’s Chief Listening Officer. He knew that getting good ideas required asking people for input and listening very carefully.
We should all be Chief Listening Officers in our own organizations.
4. Learning agility. To succeed in a world where our work is always changing, where challenges are unpredictable, and where competition abounds, we need to be agile learners. We need to apply our new knowledge. Perhaps most of all, we need to believe we can rise to the challenge.
There’s a growing body of neuroscience research that says we can learn new behaviors and modify deep-set behaviors at any age. It takes hard work and real focus, but all of us really can learn new and effective behaviors — and help take our organizations to new levels of performance.
5. Judgment. This is at the core of leadership. Fundamentally, judgment is about getting the most important calls right — when it comes to both people and strategy. Without good people judgment, your team’s performance will suffer. Without a strong team, your strategy will not be executed effectively.
Look first for people who have demonstrated high performance, integrity, and the desire to assume greater levels of responsibility. Watch out for candidates who treat others insensitively and abrasively and put their self-interest above the company good.
Strategy judgment calls require leaders to find new paths. Success depends on asking the right questions, experimenting, and constantly adjusting your approach.
It hinges even more on your level of humility. Are you too confident in your own judgment? Do you believe too strongly in your old ways of doing business? Do you think that because something has worked many times before, it will automatically work again now? Do you have the humility to understand that even with great collaboration, you won’t get everything right, and that you can’t know everything yourself?