The first decade of the 21st century taught us that the world is flat and fraught with peril. The new certainty is uncertainty. And there’s so much that executives and entrepreneurs simply can’t control as they seek to create value, accelerate growth and sustain high performance within their companies and throughout the global marketplace.
But one variable that absolutely can be controlled in the drive for enriched revenue and profits is leadership.
If an organization can develop and maximize its combined leadership acumen, particularly at the top, then the company can best understand how to shape, guide, and transform its people’s behavior. It can also tune its strategy, remake its business, and bring the full power of the culture together to succeed — even in today’s volatile and unpredictable environment.
To reach their current level of success, organizations have had to demonstrate a good deal of functional excellence across the board — in finance, sales, manufacturing, marketing, and R&D, for example.
But to go even further, they must confront paradox and still more complexity.
How Are Decisions Made — And Who’s Making Them?
It’s no longer just about making the right decision, but how that right decision is made, who’s making it, and the trade-off between several right things. And, in sheer practical terms, it’s imperative that companies start getting more capacity out of what they have in order to compete efficiently and effectively.
Addressing critical issues like this takes strong leaders who have the vision, courage, service orientation, strength of character, self-awareness, stamina, resilience, and perseverance to drive changes throughout an organization in order to help it realize its full promise and potential.
But what kind of leadership are we really talking about?
Traditional, or top-down, leadership has always played a meaningful role in the success or failure of companies. And it still does. But the surging tide of globalization, exponential increases in business complexity, and the truly unpredictable nature of the world and its dynamic geopolitics is forcing us to broaden our notion of leadership in companies of all sizes and shapes.
That means having more of the right people in the right places, more heads solving problems, and more points of view in the decision-making process. It means greater interactivity and interdependence, as well as distributed influence and fluid collaboration. And it means shared responsibility and accountability up, down and across the organization.
A New Leadership Model Provides Cohesive Corporate Glue
This is the collective leadership model, and many companies are finding that they break apart at the organizational seams without its cohesive corporate glue.
We’ve seen what happens in these cases. Competing agendas and silos reign supreme. Conversations about the business are disjointed and incoherent. Short-term results usually triumph over innovation and new ideas. And every problem is solved through execution rather than creativity. In essence, the company consistently defaults to what it knows, to what has gotten it this far.
Collective leadership stimulates and reinforces interconnected behaviors that bring the best people — those with the top-tier skills and abilities — together throughout an organization. And, when this starts to happen on an ongoing basis, and the guideposts for organizational behavior are solidly hammered into place, you have the strong makings and foundation of a collective corporate culture that is working in holistic harmony.
Most strategies developed within companies fail — or at least fall short of the promised and projected mark — because leadership reinforces cultural behaviors that are counter to what is needed. In many cases, top leadership also doesn’t fully understand its unique role and the power and impact that it can have on an organization.
Plans and goals must be framed and executed by a thoroughly united organization that knows who it is, what it wants, and where it’s headed. Centralized or vertical leadership that unknowingly or unconsciously aids and abets cultural discord or disarray is invariably left with a string of strategic disasters on its hands. And it’s this painful but pronounced strategy-performance gap that prevents many organizations from growing much further.
So, when all is said and done, collective leadership affects and influences the individual and overall behaviors of an organization; and those behaviors are manifested and reinforced in culture as well as aligned and well-executed strategies that boost revenue.
Collective Leadership Is Necessary and Sufficient to Drive Growth
Taking it a step further, culture and strategy are both necessary, but they’re not sufficient by themselves to take a company past its top-line goals. But collective leadership, on the other hand, is both necessary and sufficient to drive sustained high performance.
The challenge is successfully making necessary big changes that impact big things. It’s not about tweaking, because tweaking rarely works. But it is about accepting a certain amount of measured risk, because adjusting mid-flight when the plane’s in the air and your business performance doesn’t necessarily indicate the need for change — yet — can be disorienting to a company’s culture and customers.
That said, the upside for companies making significant changes is stronger performance across all the measures that are most important to the CEO, the top team, and the organization itself.
These benefits include: improved bench strength, tighter corporate and business alignment, unified focus, elimination of waste, a feeling of urgency and energy, a more viable business, and a heightened sense of what’s possible. And that’s just the short-term benefits.
Over the long-haul, changes that are well thought out, and driven cogently by collective leadership, can transform a company by building a launch pad for long-term, sustainable growth.
Collective leadership is the means and the end to this growth. And, if the changes that this new form of leadership inspires and implements are truly durable, they will manifest themselves in a corporate culture and strategy that provides the organization with resiliency and alignment should future business cycles prove to be turbulent.
Culture and Strategy Must Come Together — Not Collide
In the end, it all comes down to executives’ stewardship as leaders, changing behavior, and making sure that collective leadership drives the necessary elements of culture and strategy so they come together rather than collide.
We know that what helped build a company in the past will not necessarily help multiply revenues 10-fold in the future.
Diffusing the leadership model will, however, create a collaborative culture; give new meaning, mission, and purpose to the work; and drive innovative and growth-enhancing strategies deep into the 21st century’s global marketplace.
John Boyle and Kevin Klustner are the cofounders of the Seattle-based consultancy company, Convergency Partners. Convergency Partners, LLC is a full-service, partner-owned, management consulting firm.