Understand the Challenges Facing Function Leaders to Focus Development & Boost Performance

The most effective senior executives are able to think, act, and influence at both a tactical and strategic level, balancing strategic priorities to help the organization achieve its goals.

Even before the global pandemic and economic crisis, the challenges facing senior leaders were great. As organizations face intense pressure to innovate or be left behind, these leaders are forced to continuously improve and perform, and may struggle with how to do it.

The reality these leaders face is challenging and complex — and there are many new skills needed to be successful. By clarifying senior leadership challenges and focusing development on what’s most important, leaders at this level have great opportunity to boost performance and create a positive impact for their organizations, the teams they’re privileged to lead, their families, and their communities at large.

This white paper looks at the challenges and realities of being a senior leader who is head of function, division, or department, and how individuals in these positions can focus development and boost their performance.

Infographic: Focus Development to Address These Senior Leadership Challenges

The work is based on a study by a team of our senior faculty. They analyzed assessment results and written comments from close to 1,000 functional leaders who participated in our Leading for Organizational Impact program, or in a similar, customized client engagement.

Our team also analyzed 360-degree assessment ratings from nearly 15,000 of their bosses, peers, superiors, and direct reports, and interviewed 101 of these leaders to better understand their most pressing issues. Some of the trends they identified around senior leadership challenges and focusing development include:

  • To provide broader perspective, organizations are extending functional leaders’ responsibilities to oversee several functional areas.
  • Functional leaders are being asked to lead major strategic initiatives across the organization to gain critical experiences they may be lacking.
  • More targeted mentoring is being offered by highly experienced leaders both inside and outside the organization (including board members).
  • Strategic projects are being owned by multiple functional leaders, while applying a more systemic and strategic approach to leadership.
  • Leaders are gaining experiences from both wide and deep job assignments. More often, these assignments include global and cross-cultural responsibilities.
  • Reward systems are measuring results over a longer time horizon.
  • Board members are being more proactive in developing key talent.
  • CEOs are thinking more strategically about their organization’s leadership.
  • Functional leaders are moving from a mindset of either/or to both/and in their strategic planning, decision-making, and implementation.

For a more comprehensive overview of our research on senior leadership challenges and how organizations are responding by focusing development of their functional leaders, download our full white paper.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Help your leaders build the leadership competencies needed to succeed at the highest levels of your organization. We offer executive leadership programs for top leaders, including Leading for Organizational Impact, tailored to the challenges of top leaders of functions, departments, regions, and business units; and Leadership at the Peak for those already in the C-suite.

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