I’ve just finished watching a short documentary on the making of the Brian Wilson album 'No Pier Pressure'. Anyone who knows me even moderately well will know my deep connection with his music from the time of the Beach Boys through until today. His eclectic style and ability to continuously learn and produce outstanding music is simply amazing.
What stood out for me most though is listening to the much younger artists he brought in for this album talk about their experience in working with him on this album.
All of them, Kasey Musgraves, Nate Reuss, Sebu, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward – a new generation of performers, all established in their own right, describing what it means to be engaged in the creative relationship with Brian Wilson. And all of them spoke about Brian’s desire for getting things right. Really right. Perfect even? And at the same time they spoke about Brian learning as he understood their voices, and folded that into his style to allow for a co-creation and perhaps an output that was better than what he originally had in mind from a production perspective. One of them also spoke of how Brian draws in the best musicians because he can get them to lift more than they normally would.
Then it hit me. What I was watching was a masterclass in engaging leadership.
He certainly has his ideas for how something should be, and the creative process is a high-risk environment. The risk being that your creativity can be trashed at the whim of the consumer and critics.
And leadership is no different.
Really good leadership is often about having an idea about where you are going and articulating that. At the same time it is about listening to your team and those around you, and being prepared to fold in their ideas to make the journey and outcome more effective than it was going to be. But where’s the risk in that? Well, anytime you are prepared to create a strategy, a plan for the future, a blue-print for a new product or service; you are putting your creative self out there for criticism. Show me anyone who has done this and I’ll bet that they can list at least one person who criticised what they proposed.
Beyond this, all of the younger musicians spoke about being inspired and lifted despite his drive for perfection. In fact, I would say a big part of the inspiration was because of his famous drive for perfection…for wanting to get things just right. How often do we hear the message that there is no such thing as perfection; and that’s true when it comes to ‘us’. As humans, we are only perfect whilst ever we are growing, developing, learning and seeking to do things better than we may have done it before. That is what I saw in that documentary; both from the actions of Brian Wilson and in the reflections of the younger artists.
I am a believer that an important part of leadership is not being prepared to settle for second-best; firstly in myself, and therefore in others. This also implies a wonderful thing. It means we believe that even when we do and celebrate great work, we also believe that the team can still lift some more. It means that when things don’t work out so well, we believe that our team can learn, grow and give it another go. That is a wonderful and inspiring belief to have as a leader. Belief in self and belief in others.
The minute we stop believing this, I think we start to reduce our impact as leaders; we commence the gradual erosion of engagement. So perhaps Brian Wilson brings something to the table when it comes to learning about engaging leadership? Perhaps a motto for being an engaging leader (and for life in general) can be found in the words of Brian Wilson...
"Beware the lollipop of mediocrity…lick it once and you’ll suck forever!”
When it comes to fostering engagement, the role of a leader is central, and for leaders themselves, it can seem quite overwhelming. We know that the level of engagement is the result of a number of factors, two of which are leader-critical. They are the ability of your leaders to understand and articulate your:
Let’s explore these ideas in brief.
Whether you are a first time supervisor or a seasoned leader, your ability to make sense of where the company is headed and wrap your head around the strategy and objectives as they relate to your level of leadership is a pivotal activity when it comes to building engagement in your teams. The reason for this is simple. People like to know where they are going and what they are investing their energy in. Sure, there are some people who are just happy to turn up each day, do what they have to do and then go home. But for a majority of your people, they like to know why they are turning up each day and just how their role is contributing to the achievement of the bigger picture. Part of this is psychological, as we all have deep hungers for being informed and acknowledged. At its very core, sharing what you know of how your team’s objectives contribute to the function or company strategy will feed those hungers and prevent your people from making their own sense of where the ship is headed. So, if you know where the ship is headed, share it.
This one can seem a bit harder than sharing on direction as culture can seem like such a big and impermeable beast. But the reality is that as leaders we are custodians and champions of our organisations culture. If you’ve not gone down the path of capturing and optimising your organisational culture, you can still nail this one. What are the company values? These are usually derived from processes that distil what we believe are the important ways to think and act around here. If you don’t have clearly stated values, what is the vision? This is another way of getting in touch with the culture of an organisation. It’s certainly not the whole picture, especially if you find yourself in a situation where the stated vision or values are not demonstrated by the leadership of the business. Between your vision and values, you have some important guide posts for ‘how’ you should be leading. Whether they be values such as ‘passion’, ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘customer-focused’, find a way to bring these to life in the way you lead. Talk with your team about what they mean for how your team does what it does on a daily basis. From first time manager to experienced leader…this one can be easy to do as well. From a psychological standpoint, by having this conversation your people feel involved in the business. And when you walk the talk, and carry out your role in the spirit of the vision or values you let your people see what good looks like. Some people need to see it to make sense of it whilst others will just get it.
These are a couple of small actions that any leader can deploy that will start to have a positive impact on engagement. Seriously, they are not time-consuming nor do they need to suck energy…rather they will most likely generate energy…and we know that when we feel energised we also start to feel engaged.
Being able to engage, influence and lead effectively across borders was once considered one of the new frontiers of leadership as globalisation started to take effect. Now it seems there is almost an assumption that if you work in a global organisation, and are an effective leader in your home country that this will automatically translate into being an effective leader in a different country or across a region. But that’s not normally the case, as I’ve found when coaching many leaders who have found themselves in this position.
So, what are the characteristics of being an effective global leader? In my experience, there are three dimensions to consider that have underpinned the success of those leaders I’ve worked with who are achieving good results beyond borders. By contrast, I would also suggest that they are many of the missing elements for those I’ve coached who aren’t performing as well as they would like at this level. These three dimensions are:
Let’s take a brief look at what these dimensions comprise.
This is the ability and desire to:
This is the ability and desire to:
This is the ability and desire to:
These dimensions are highly interdependent, for example, you can be quite open to taking in new experiences (Perceptual Awareness) but not be so interested in engaging with your new surrounds (Relational Awareness). I see this when strong technical leaders who have spent many years working as an individual contributor, and have a preference for this, find themselves in an expat or global leadership role and suddenly having to lead or influence peers across the globe. Doing it in their home country probably presented enough challenges without the complexity of having to do it in a global setting!
Then there are leaders who have average to well-developed levels of Perceptual and Relational Awareness, but have lower levels of Self-Awareness, and are unable to cope effectively with the stresses that come with having to perform and lead in a foreign environment. Working in these environments can allow lower levels of self-esteem and confidence to manifest as stress and negatively impact what could potentially be a positive experience.
You’ll also notice that I’ve not referred to technical competence. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important; it’s just that rarely is it the reason that I find myself coaching global leaders. In fact, I can only think of a couple of occasions when part of the challenge for a global leader has been technical competence. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen more frequently, however it’s the behaviours relating to the ‘global self’ that are mostly the reason for poor performance than technical competence.
The good news is that these dimensions can be measured and developed providing the global leader with a window to their ‘global self’; which is a good thing for the leader and the organisation when we consider the high turnover rates of expats either during their assignment or within eighteen months of returning. But even if the only thing you do is take the time to reflect on where you think you sit on these dimensions, you’ve already taken the first step towards developing your ‘global self’ and enhancing your effectiveness as a global leader, no matter your starting point!
How often do we look at the most engaging and inspiring leaders of the world and ask ourselves, "why can’t I have a bit of that?"
Let’s face it, there are leaders out there who are engaging, effective, and carry with them a potency that seems to almost create a class system in terms of leaders. But what is it about their potency that places them at the top of the leadership pecking order (if such a thing existed!)?
There are three characteristics that I consistently see in those that I regard as potent leaders. They:
1. are natural
2. can relate with ease
3. own the role of a leader
Let's explore these ideas in brief.
Potent Leaders are Natural
A potent leader comes across as natural; there is a higher degree of authenticity with what they do and how they do it. This is because for them the debate on just how much we allow ‘who’ we are to influence our work isn’t a consideration. I often hear leaders express concern over how they work hard to keep their personal and professional lives separate, or put effort into managing the balance. Little do they realise that people engage as much with who we are as much as they do the other factors such as remuneration, rewards and the aesthetics of the workplace. Years of global engagement surveys highlight this fact; but the chances are your people aren’t reading employee engagement surveys, but they are reading you every day.
Being natural is about having a strong sense of self; being aware of your boundaries and being comfortable with what you are prepared to share, and the extent to which you are prepared to allow ‘who’ you are to colour your professional life and leadership style. Accompanying this is a healthy level of self-esteem and knowing that a little bit of vulnerability and openness is demonstrating that you are human; you are real!
So how can you be more natural in your leadership approach? The easy answer is to have the confidence to be yourself. If this isn’t a strong point, then question the self-talk that undermines and eats away at your confidence to allow more of yourself into the role. Chances are the self-talk is based on messages we have picked up throughout life (many that we have brought from childhood into adult life) that are irrational and probably not relevant to who you are today. So anything you can do to raise your levels of self-awareness and learn more about what makes you tick, will go a long way. Working with a coach who can help you connect with your values, reading or working with a mentor who is acknowledged as a natural and effective leader are all ways to help develop your style.
Potent Leaders Relate with Ease
The more natural we can be within our role, the more likely it is that we will be able to relate to others in an engaging style. After all, people will know ‘who’ it is that they are interacting with, which makes it easier for the communication flow and for the other person to also relax and bring more of who they are into the dialogue. When you are more relaxed with yourself, it also means you can increase your focus on the other person. Because you aren’t so worried (consciously or unconsciously) about what the other person may be thinking of you, this means you have more energy to invest in them. Observing their body language, looking for small cues that let you understand what they are really saying. You are signalling that you are interested in them; in ‘who’ they are. Leaders who relate with ease are really quite unconditional in their approach. To relate with ease is almost always about putting who you are, and your needs, to one side and really listening.
The impact for global leaders in this regard is significant. The ability to read small cues and be awake to what is really being said is critical to bridging the cultural gap. It is how we identify the cultural rituals and understand the differences that exist between us; allowing us to engage and relate with greater meaning. More importantly though, building any relationship, intercultural or otherwise, is an extremely unconditional process, and one that requires an acknowledgement that no matter which nationalities we may be interacting with we all share the some process for how we develop relationships. That is; we all need to go through a process of building rapport (seeking to understand ‘who’ the other person is, what their rituals are, and what is important to them), as a precursor to enjoying the natural momentum and engagement that comes with a ell developed relationship.
To improve the way you relate with ease, one of the most powerful things you can do is one of the simplest. Invest time at the beginning of the relationship to understand who it is you are dealing with. Ask questions and be inquisitive. Be interested, not interesting. You will soon realise that the idea of relating with ease has less to do with you, but more to do with how you enable the other person to relate to you with ease.
Potent Leaders Own the Role of a Leader
Allowing more of yourself into the role, and relating with ease can help you grow into the role of a leader and evolve as a leader. Underpinning this is your ability to acknowledge that you are a leader, in a leadership role. Your decisions and behaviours impact the careers and lives of those in your team directly and indirectly and in obvious and not so obvious ways. From decisions on performance review and pay increases and decisions to hire or fire, through to making off hand or throw away comments that may be in jest or only half thought through…but if taken out of context by an employee can impact their thinking and behaviours.
If you don’t understand this, then it doesn’t matter how natural a leader you are, or the extent to which you can relate with ease. You are missing the point that you have signed up for management and everything that comes with it. This means making the difficult decisions and having the hard conversations as well as ensuring you celebrate the successes.
The key message is that the potent leaders don’t shy away from the fact that they are a manager. They understand that there is an inherent power that accompanies the authority of their role that can be used to inspire, motivate and help lift performance. This inherent power is a natural accompaniment to leadership. You can’t have one without the other; which means that those leaders who find it difficult to own the fact that they are a leader probably don’t realise that by doing nothing in their role, they are still influencing behaviour. But not in the way they would like.
The Final Word?
No matter who you are, your role, or level of leadership; you can start developing your potency whenever you want; it’s not something that requires permission from anyone else. You own your potency.
Be pragmatic and look for ways to practice and experiment with new ways of engaging and track the responses and results. Read books on the subject, take tests that allow you to learn more about your values and what’s important to you, be coached or mentored, and above all value the integrity of your relationships.
Out of the many pillars of employee engagement, the one that stands out the most is leadership. Leaders impact engagement within an organisation both horizontally and vertically, and as identified in many research reports in the last five years, engaging leadership is fast becoming a non-negotiable.
It seems that now is the time to be rethinking the way leadership development occurs from an engagement perspective and there is a very good reason for this. Ask most leaders and they will be able to tell you ‘why’ employee engagement is important. They will most likely be able to tell you ‘what’ they should be doing as well; after all most leaders have at some point completed some form of management or leadership training that has provided some great ideas on what to do. But there is a missing link.
The secret to really good leadership engagement lies in ‘how’ we choose to deploy the skills and tools learned in the courses that teach 'what' to do. I've come to realise that in this respect, the answer has been in front of us for a number of decades without realising it. Eric Berne, in his work with transactional analysis, identified a series of hungers that drive us into action. Three of these are integral to employee engagement; stimulation (being intellectually and emotionally stimulated), recognition (being acknowledged for who we are and what we do - acknowledgement of our existence in the group and in society) and structure (how we make time for relationships, activities and to give and receive stimulation and recognition).
As a coach, mentor and leader in the people field for many years now, I have often found myself working with actively disengaged employees and teams with the objective of helping them get back on track. In this time I've worked with many underpinning causes of disengagement, such as, lack of challenge in the role, no vision for the future of the employee, lack of trust, inability to connect and integrate with new teams. You can imagine that these causes are a synthesis of many different variants; and the reality is that they are all related either directly, or indirectly, to each of the hungers mentioned above. Or rather, they are related to a lack of fulfilment of these hungers.
'How' we choose to engage as leaders should therefore look to addressing these basic hungers:
If you are an organisational development or professional development leader, the challenge is to take a fresh look at your leadership development approach through the 'how' lens. Another way to consider it is like this; if the way we have viewed leadership development until now can be considered structural and content driven, perhaps we need to match this with an approach that could best be described as relational and emergent.
The engine room of engagement is often perceived as a complex beast; but it doesn’t have to be this way; and it probably never has had to be this way. If you can keep it simple and focus on the above three elements, then you are perhaps making it easier for leaders to tap into and harness their potency, and become more naturally engaging leaders.
The future of leadership is always being questioned, explored, poked and prodded; yet the reality is that successful leaders tomorrow will most likely carry the same core qualities as those from today and years gone by. They will be leaders who have the vision of Steve Jobs, leverage disruption like Richard Branson and encourage constructive risk taking like Jack Welch. Above all, they will get that the relationships they create with their people will continue to be the beating heart of their success as a leader.
To put this in context let’s look at leadership through a couple of lenses that will matter in the coming years.
Engaging the Millennial Employee
It’s too easy (and lazy) to write off Generation Y with broad-brush strokes that categorise them as superficial and being the ‘me’ or the ‘I want it and I want it now’ crowd. The reality is that this is a generation connected to values, to each other and to the world as much as the generations that came before it – if not more. It goes without saying then that the most successful leaders of Generation Y will be those who take the time to connect with and genuinely understand what their Millenials want; from life and from work. You can’t discover this unless you build a relationship that is more than chatting about what you did on the weekend or the task at hand. The world is changing and we are well and truly in the Participation Age. As the name suggests, the people we are leading will increasingly expect to be involved at work. They will be as interested in the vision of the organisation as they will your personal vision for leadership and life – there will be no room to hide if your own personal line of sight from values to behaviour is blurred. They will want to be involved in decisions that impact organisational and team direction, and involved in decisions that impact them. So the more you understand, and really know the people you are leading, the more you will know how to direct and optimise their energy, and engage them in ‘why’ they are working with you and not just that they are.
Leading in Global Organisations
Everyday the world is becoming smaller; supply chains and markets are becoming global faster than ever before, and for leaders this means adopting a whole new mindset around how they connect as a leader. Teams are increasingly spread across more than one country and require a different style of leadership that engages and motivates in such a way that people feel like they belong – irrespective of where they are located. I’m fortunate to have worked with and been led by some really effective leaders over the years who have nailed this; one in particular stands out to this day. He was based in Parsippany, New Jersey and I was in Sydney, Australia. He also had reports in other countries and scattered throughout the US; and they all reported the same experience. He took the time to get to know us. Each phone call commenced on a personal level, he spoke as if we were old friends and drew us into the conversation. He also did a second thing very well; he spoke of our geographically dispersed team as if they were in the same room, as if I was sitting next to them! My colleagues, like him, were dotted line relationships, but he spoke as if we were blood relatives, and encouraged us to connect, share and leverage our collective knowledge. And we did. There were no silos and collaboration was the norm. It was as if the idea of borders and separate countries never even existed in his mind; and the assumption of his words and language was that we were one.
So what does this mean for the future of leadership? Probably the same thing it’s always meant; that we are leading people who at their core desire acknowledgement for who they are, and recognition for what they bring. People who, as Maslow suggested, like to belong. Factors that have never changed; but are about to become just a little more important to the leadership success equation. Perhaps it will become the era of the Relational Leader.
Centralised and control-based organisations are fast losing relevance in a world characterised by globalisation, diversity and a new generations who demand to be involved in your business. This calls for a period of leadership that will disrupt current leadership patterns and lay the foundations for a new leadership era; and irrespective of what the future of leadership may look like, the reality is that the depth of disruption required, and the sustainability and relevance of whatever new era of leadership emerges, it will be founded upon the values of openness, transparency and trust.
I recently heard Jeff Immelt, global CEO of GE, say that you “become a better CEO if you are willing to face into your own mistakes and be prepared to learn from them.” That statement is disruptive in and of itself. It challenges long held beliefs that the more senior you are the more you should know, and that you shouldn’t let the world see the chinks in your armour. It is also a statement that opens the door to two important concepts that underpin Disruptive Leadership; transparency and embracing emergence.
Traditionally, the holding of knowledge represents power. To willingly share knowledge or create an environment where sharing and openness is the norm is therefore scary. For this reason, transparency in leadership, as it is in any part of business, is often considered disruptive; especially in those organisations who have evolved a bureaucratic and rigid culture over a long period of time. At its heart, transparency is disruptive simply because it asks us to bare ourselves to the world and challenges those around us to do the same. Baring ourselves can appear in may forms; perhaps it is a team admitting that it can't deliver, or on a personal level sharing that you are anxious, excited or anything in between. It is about operating on a different dimension; one that creates level playing fields within a team or function, creates trust and opens the door to collaboration. For those leaders who are brave enough, it allows people to see them for who they really are and what they stand for. There is no false wall between them and their people. Remember that people engage equally with hearts and not just minds.
Integrating transparency isn’t without its challenges, least of all understanding the maturity and readiness of your audience for a heightened level of openness. At the same time you can also consider this a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, for without being prepared to share more openly in the first place, how will our people learn how to be open themselves, and take on the same behaviours?
For the Disruptive Leader, the idea of emergence, and that a solution could be created in their team is far more important and exciting than feeling that they should know everything. The Disruptive Leader is always open to their blind spots, and the blind spots of their team, and seeks to create opportunities for stimulation that provide the best conditions for engagement, emergence and performance. The key to making emergence work is ensuring that the team knows the boundaries within which they are working. This is as simple as ensuring everyone is clear on the primary objective of the team, their roles in relation to the primary objective, and the strategic direction and context within which the team is operating. Once everyone is clear on what they are doing and why, your job is to guide the energy in the group and create an environment that extracts the best from your people, individually and collectively. In other words, let them play, take risks and experiment within the context of why they are here, and what they are helping the wider organisation achieve. Maureen Dougherty, Australian and South Pacific CEO of Boeing recently said with regards to optimising research and development (R&D) investment that "R&D is not just about dollars...it is the extent to which we let engineers be courageous and curious and encourage them to try wild ideas." These words bring to life the potency of emergence; especially if those same engineers were clear on the strategic context of their work, the primary objective of their team or function and how their individual roles were contributing to the objectives and strategy.
Disruption with constructive intent will no doubt become a core value for organisations who want to stay fresh and relevant in such a fast paced and highly evolving world. It goes without saying then, that the ability for leaders to embrace disruption and incorporate it into everyday leadership may be the single most important capability and mindset to be developed over the coming years to help drive organisational success and sustainability.
I read often about the idea that the aim of groups is to be able to ‘work together’. In the context of the world today, and what is described as the Participation Age, I wonder if ‘working together’ is enough? My experience is that if we are 'working together' then we are in a state of getting on with the job; doing what needs to be done to meet an outcome. In the past that may have sufficed, however we find ourselves in a position today where increasingly we are seeing transactional and administrative type tasks going the way of self-service and automation. This process is eliminating an important layer of ‘the work’ that we once got on with, and creates a new definition of what it means to get on with the job.
This new foundation layer is more transformational than it is transactional. It means getting on with the job in an era defined by continually changing technologies that influence rapidly shifting business expectations, and with a generation of younger, more world-aware, and ‘instantaneous’ employees. Underpinning this is a business environment where the borders that separate countries are less likely to define business context. Instead, the borders that encompass like minds and shared desires become the new business context. This shift brings with it a whole new set of challenges that redefines what it means to work and to lead.
So, coming back to my initial question…is ‘working together’ enough to ensure organisational success in the Participation Age? I think it’s a good start, though the real goal is to progress to the frame of ‘winning together’. The table below shows some of the key transitions will help an organisation move from Working Together to Winning Together:
Whilst there are not many organisations that could attest to being completely in the frame of Winning Together, when I speak and work with those people who are fortunate enough to be in organisations who lean that way, what I hear in the words they use, and see in the things they do, is a real sense of liberation. They speak of the freedom to experiment and exercise entrepreneurialism within a clearly defined set of boundaries. They speak of leaders who are more interested in feeding and guiding their energy around a task rather than micro-managing the task. Above all, they speak about how they are encouraged to bring themselves to work…not just the part that completes the job. They fully participate in ‘how’ the job is done, and not just that it is done. They therefore have a vested interest in success, and finding ways to be successful; for themselves and for the business.
In addition, when we consider the literature on how to work with Generation Y and those who will follow, we know that ‘working together’ isn’t going to cut it for much longer. Anyone who is currently leading a team of Millennial’s will most likely already be cutting their teeth on the attributes listed in the Winning Together column above.
As we enter the early days of the Participation Age, I’m not sure that merely ‘working together’ will be enough to ensure organisational longevity and success. A 'Winning Together' mindset it seems may be the new non-negotiable basis from which we work and lead.
Depending on whose research you rely on, we know that M&A’s have a failure rate of anywhere between 40% - 80%, so the need to understand the factors that can help give your M&A a greater chance of success is crucial. A post in the most recent edition of the Harvard Business Review points to the fact that leadership is a key criteria in the success of M&A’s. In his article, J Keith Dunbar says that it’s not only the leadership abilities of the acquiring company that are key, but the leadership capability in the target company as well. This is a great insight, and a perspective not often considered; at least not to the depth explored in his research.
Interestingly though, the research didn’t highlight two of the key areas that are often cited as the culprits of a broken M&A marriage. Culture and resilience. There is an interdependence that exists between the two, and at the same time they each bring very unique and different qualities to the table that can underpin a successful M&A, JV or partnership.
Culture is as much an individual factor as it is an organisational reality, and in the HBR article there are leadership attributes identified that support the leadership of a healthy culture and that reinforce aspects of a resilient workforce. Motivating and influencing others, relationship building, integrity, adaptability and customer focus. All practical and important aspects of leading a healthy and resilient culture.
However, knowing what we do today about the nature of organisational culture and the links between leading and living the values of an organisation, this is an area that should not be overlooked. Where possible this aspect of leadership should be made explicit in the M&A process, and not assumed that it will inform the way leaders lead in this context. The extent to which a leader adopts M&A leadership values and behaviors is in many respects the extent to which the M&A gains traction on the ground from the very beginning. Too often, as consultants working in this space, we come in years after a merger or acquisition only to find pockets of middle, and sometimes senior, management talking down the whole change process and not completely embracing the new organisational identity. And yet, it is these people who we rely on to embrace M&A leadership behaviours such as:
Landscape Thinking. They seek to understand the bigger picture – the broader landscape, within which the M&A sits. For this reason they are able to calmly and diplomatically deal with issues that arise throughout the M&A process, simply because they understand the broader context.
Assertiveness. It goes without saying that part of the M&A implementation strategy is ensuring that all leaders and employees are provided the bigger picture along with a more tactical layer that demonstrates where they fit and why. But this isn’t always the case, nor does everyone interpret the message in the same way. For this reason it falls back to the leadership to seek to understand both individually and as a group the ‘why’s’ and the ‘how’s’ and exactly what their role is in fostering the change.
Emotional and Behavioural Responsibility. Not everyone, including leaders, will like all aspects of an M&A; as a result there will be many emotions expressed, sometimes unfiltered, at many levels of the organisation. However a key leadership attribute is the ability to balance the tension that exists between how they feel within themselves about the change, and the business reality. Only then can leaders continue to provide a stable style of leadership that is needed to help see in the new ways of working.
When you look at the more successful M&A’s there is an undeniable presence of each of these factors along with a focus on the intersection between culture and strategy as explored in a previous post on strategy and culture in M&A's. Examples over the last 10 years include the CPP buyout of its main Australian distributor, the Publicis Groupe acquisition of Saatchi and Saatchi and the CEMEX buy out of RMS in the cement industry. All of these examples were successful due to a healthy spread of focus across the strategic and cultural factors. One case that truly highlights the value-add of such an approach is the Proctor and Gamble buyout of Gillette. P&G set the scene for success by taking a human and inclusive approach that matched, and some would argue, exceeded the energies invested in the strategic, financial and operational due diligence process. P&G ensured that the Gillette leadership group understood the bigger picture, and involved them in creating the next stage of the journey. Leaders and employees were encouraged to ask questions, and seek to fully understand what was happening, why and where they fitted. Integration teams made up of executives from both organisations worked on the ground to create a shared understanding of the new ways of working and numerous town hall meetings fronted by the most senior of the P&G and Gillette leadership teams kept the workforce across the latest developments. On top of this, full training was provided for Gillette employees in how to build networks and be personally and professionally successful within the P&G organisation. All leaders, especially P&G leaders, were encouraged by the CEO to walk the talk when it came to the emotionally intelligent aspects of leadership. For example, how they connected with all employees from both sides of the organisation; and not referring to ‘sides’ – breaking down the barriers and silos in the way they acted on a daily basis.
The common thread through all of this is that it is ‘how’ the leaders lead in the context of an M&A that makes the difference, and not just that they do. The leadership required in a stable organisation not undergoing significant change is a different context for leadership than that required in an M&A situation. Equally important is that the organisation set it’s leaders and workforce up for success by making the cultural aspects of change as tangible, explicit and important as all other aspects of the M&A strategy.
The ability to lead and manage across borders is fast becoming an indispensible leadership quality. The way business and business growth is trending it’s highly likely that a majority of tomorrows leaders will experience leading teams, functions or businesses largely comprised of virtual and globally dispersed teams. This isn’t restricted to the more well developed industrial nations either; many large manufacturers, IT and services organisations are busy investing in emerging economies, which represents a whole new way of organisational thinking and in turn leadership behaviours to ensure success. In fact the organisational approach and the leadership behaviours that underpin success in a global context are very much the same and evolve around three key criteria:
Organisational. As an organisation, the ability to create a culture and practice of genuine collaboration is critical. Many M&A’s and expansions into new countries stumble or fail because more effort is invested into protecting and defending territorial patches and ‘old’ ways of thinking, rather than relaxing the mostly psychological boundaries and allowing energy to flow between teams, functions and countries. But collaboration doesn’t just happen. If time is invested up front to create a level of strategic alignment between the impacted leadership groups, followed by a short process of creating a shared vision of what successful collaboration looks like, along with a framework or supporting leadership charter, then you have done more than most companies in enabling organisational collaboration.
Leadership. Fostering collaboration is difficult if it doesn’t feel supported or safe to do so. If there isn’t an organisational approach to enabling collaboration, then it falls to the leader to make it happen; and this is more about mindset than skill. Collaboration can be:
The actual ‘doing’ of collaboration isn’t so difficult; it’s the thought process that precedes the behaviour that makes or breaks collaboration at a leadership level. If a leader is able to relax the boundaries that separate them from their team, and their team or function from the rest of the organisation, they open up the gates for energy to flow and exploration of the different perceptions held around how the work can get done. As we know, this comes back to the level of self-confidence and awareness of the leader to see the benefits of letting go and their level of resilience to weather the storm, deal with the issues and bounce back when it doesn’t quite go to plan.
Organisational. We tend to think of communication on an individual level, and there is no doubting the role that leadership communication plays in reinforcing the trust required for cross-border success. But like collaboration at an organisational level, there is an organisational responsibility to create an environment where conversations are encouraged, feedback is highly regarded and the tyranny of distance is no barrier. The last one should be the easiest from a technological perspective, but it is the supporting organisational capability plan that will ensure people know how to use and optimise communication technologies. The intersection of the organisational capability strategy with the internal communications and broader strategic plan will also help highlight the types, intensity and frequency of communication required to ensure the broader goal of successful global working is achieved.
Leadership. In a multi-national environment, a leaders ability to use communication as a key leadership tool is critical, especially if they are leading people in another city or country. Unlike the leader who sees their team everyday, the ability to ‘walk the talk’ takes on a whole new meaning. Whilst ever a leader is thinking in mono then there isn’t the likelihood of inspired thinking or discretionary behaviour from their people. When we are thinking in mono, our behaviour is quite lineal and we miss the opportunity to connect with people beyond the transactional. Once leaders think in stereo or even in surround sound, their words and actions have the ability to be everywhere and live on in the minds of their people. And this is what the global leader needs to perfect – to be able to paint pictures with their words in such a way that if their team can’t see what they mean in person, they can clearly imagine it and be motivated by the possibilities of what the picture represents.
Organisational. Global leadership at it’s best is supported by an organisation that clearly understands and internally articulates the fact that it is global. This articulation can be seen in the following ways:
In other words, if the organisation were a person, it would know who it is (a global creature) and be very comfortable with who they are. It’s not always easy to reach this stage, especially for those companies in the early to mid stages of international growth; the teenagers of the global business community. However it is attainable, and necessary, for the organisation to be able to support their leaders in driving the culturally aware organisation.
Leadership. Culturally aware organisations create and communicate strong messages of inclusiveness and speaking with one voice starting with the board and the executive leadership teams. The national make up of these groups is only one factor that can create an immediate impression of organisational cultural awareness. What is more important is the quality of their actions and the way in which they lead. Do they actively promote and encourage collaboration and cultural diversity? For example, speaking a shared language when more than one or two countries are represented in a meeting or respecting time zones when setting international meetings. If little things like this aren’t done at the most senior levels of leadership, then it’s not likely it’s being done down throughout the organisation. The potency of leadership at this level is critical to ensuring the right messages are cascaded down through all leadership levels regarding cross-border leadership.
Dropping down into the organisation, the same principles apply, just in a different way. For a business leader, this doesn’t mean being able to speak all of the languages of the people in their team. This is about understanding the ways of working of the people in your team, and what behaviours or rituals are important to observe and incorporate into the team’s way of working. Like collaboration, it’s not something that comes naturally to all leaders, especially those who are leading for the first time in a global capacity. This is where the strength of message from senior leaders and the supporting organisational frameworks are critical in helping leaders in more complex situations. It also means that teaming and the way teaming occurs is a little bit different, and works more with understanding and creating shared values and ways of working rather than the more traditional behavioural teaming approaches.
Whilst globalisation isn’t new, the idea of developing leaders to lead in a global context is relatively new. But leadership development is only one part of the equation. To really set our organisations up for global success it is about seeking full integration between:
1. What we want our leaders to do, and
2. The organisational measures we have in place to enable our leaders to do it well.
In an everyday leadership environment this is important. In a global leadership context - it is critical.