Organisations need to go beyond individual leadership capabilities to look at the portfolio of leadership abilities.
Tim Berners-Lee was the inventor of the World Wide Web and unlike so many of the inventions that have moved the world, this one truly was the work of one man. Thomas Edison got credit for the light bulb, but he had dozens of people in his lab working on it. William Shockley may have fathered the transistor, but two of his research scientists actually built it. This in many ways points out the difference between teams that do things and the human need to identify one face or one person behind important achievements.
So it is in corporate leadership, Companies believe they need superheroes, or saviors, who will lead them out of crises or will spearhead growth. The general public looks out for that one name they can latch on to for praise or blame.
Teams can be a critical differentiator for companies. Waiting for a superhero is dangerous and advocating of the portfolio concept of leadership is more practical. No one can be perfect at everything. Organisations need to go beyond individual leadership capabilities to look at the portfolio of leadership abilities that can help them collectively meet their strategic imperatives and deal with diverse situations: crisis, transition, growth and stable state.
This concept is perhaps even more relevant in a downturn. At this time, both individual leaders, as well as organisations as a whole, need to navigate ambiguity. Building this collective skill and helping the organisation become more agile and adaptable requires collective leadership even more strongly than at other times.
The qualities of authenticity and resilience become even more critical. Some leadership competencies that are necessary at this time include the ability to communicate and counsel employees, to engage employees even when they are anxious or insecure; to innovate, to truly understand the levers of the business so as to be to balance short term revenue and profitability with building long term strategic muscle; to relentlessly focus on operational excellence and to leverage relationships. These skills are certainly relevant in all situations, but we argue that they become critical in a situation of adversity.
As the saying goes, good companies grow in good times but great companies grow in difficult times. The ability to learn, grow and profit from adversity has served to differentiate great companies over time and this downturn will be no different.
How does an organisation build a portfolio of leaders? Through leadership development initiatives and it could be found that there is a need to focus as much on teams as they do on individuals. A simple “3 A” model, based on Alignment, Action learning and Appreciative enquiry, that helps build this portfolio by working through teams.
Alignment with the organisation’s vision is the key which allows the portfolio of leaders to be aligned as well. When supported by action-learning that helps to achieve business outcomes and appreciative enquiry that facilitates reflection, leaders will take their learning forward and build further alignment. Again this is neither new nor applicable only in a downturn rather, it is a re-emphasis on what is important and makes a difference.
Alignment starts with understanding the nature of leadership required to achieve the strategic business objectives of the organisation in the context of its values and vision. It requires a deep appreciation of the kinds of situations leaders may face and specific outcomes that they need to deliver. Alignment is the pre-requisite that separates effective teams from dysfunctional teams.