Organizations suffer greatly when senior leaders falter or fail. In spite of this risk, leader development at this level is often overlooked. But with the right training and practice, senior leaders can avoid common pitfalls and meet their organizations’ seemingly divergent needs.
Leadership success is rooted in what we call The Fundamental 4: self-awareness, communication, influence, and learning agility. If you are an experienced leader, you have developed these skills during your career. But as you advance in your career, you need to know how these 4 skills are applied differently at the senior level.
Self-Awareness: This is critical for senior leaders in the organization. It goes beyond knowing your strengths and weaknesses, your preferences and patterns, and the effect of your behavior on others. At this level, you need to really understand the impact your leadership behavior has on organizational outcomes.
Communication: Being an effective communicator becomes more complex as you lead a function or division. The logistics of sharing information, often across time zones, cultures and operations, is one challenge. Effectively communicating the goals of the business while at the same time inspiring trust is the larger challenge for many senior leaders.
Learning Agility: Learning from your experiences and applying that knowledge in new ways is crucial to success. For many seasoned executives, this has become second nature. But over-relying on what worked in the past or assuming you have what it takes to be successful in the future can spell trouble. For you, the challenge may be knowing when to change course and have the tools to learn and adapt, not to mention helping others to do the same.
Influencing: The process of influencing others takes on new dimensions as well. More than ever you need the ability to influence across vertical, horizontal, stakeholder, demographic and geographic boundaries.
As you manage a business unit or division, you also need to have (or develop) 7 additional competencies that address the breadth and complexity of your role:
- Being visionary
- Driving results
- Strategic thinking and acting
- Creating engagement
- Identifying innovation opportunities
- Working across boundaries
- Leading globally
While this checklist just touches on the complexity of your job, these leader competencies are key to meeting the goals of your organization.
By strengthening these 7 competencies, as well as the 4 fundamentals of effective leadership, even very experienced managers can accelerate their effectiveness. They begin to see their strengths and weaknesses within the context of the organization and the demands of their role. And they can then work on the specific behaviors that will have the greatest impact on their success, and on the success of the business.
Leading for Organizational Impact
As a senior leader, you’re no stranger to setting strategy, prioritizing, and managing others. But leading a large function or operation demands something more — it requires that you drive organizational-level results.
Whether you’re taking on a top job at a small firm, managing a function of a mid-size business, or running a division of a global company, you must lead in ways that build on your experience but also go beyond it. To be effective you need to:
- Develop the ability to recognize opportunities and avoid pitfalls.
- Balance tactical concerns with strategic possibilities.
- Leverage leadership to impact organizational outcomes.
One of the best ways to make the transition to leading at the functional level is to gain a deep understanding of your strengths and development opportunities. It’s critical to understand how your leadership behavior impacts organizational outcomes.