Many of us view leadership as critical to the performance of any organization.
But what are the specific leadership capabilities that are key to impacting and elevating the results produced in an organization?
In our decades of work with clients, we have identified 5 capabilities essential to delivering the results that bring about an extraordinary future.
They are the ability to: Reveal, Commit, Intervene, Mobilize, Generate.
The first important capability is to reveal the thinking and assumptions in the background that are helping or impeding leadership and performance.
Simply put, results are a function of the actions we take, and our actions are always consistent with how we see the world. How we see the world is shaped by assumptions, biases and views in the background seen as the “truth”. It is these views that most limit what we see possible, our actions, and ultimately performance.
Revealing these views and thinking beyond them, is a critical first step in delivering new levels of results.
As an example, we were bought in to work with a petrochemical complex that had not made a profit in ten years and had the worst safety performance in its group. Our first task was to interview people to understand what was going on. It soon became apparent that the predominant views were; “We’ve been around 100 years, they’re not going to get rid of us” and “this is a dangerous business, people get hurt.” This attitude and resignation was crippling performance and people’s view of what was possible for the future. After working with people so they could see these were just views and not ‘the truth’, they were freed up to consider new possibilities and to take new actions.
The second capability that will have you on track to achieve unprecedented results is committing to extraordinary objectives, particularly when the path to delivery is unclear.
The first step to doing this is imagining what is possible, freed from the constraints of previous biases. Painting a picture of the future state helps clarify what’s important and can ignite the inspiration that will sustain you during difficult periods.
The second step is actually committing to realizing this new future, as well as identifying specific measurable results that are consistent with the future you’ve created. This can be a challenge for many of us, as we tend to commit only to things we know we can do. To commit to produce results beyond what we know how to do calls for the courage of one’s convictions and the courage to take action consistent with what’s most important.
To illustrate this, in our petrochemical complex example, when faced with not knowing how to deliver, the leaders committed to creating a sustainable future for the complex, significantly improving safety performance, and making a profit, each of which was not predictable.
Nothing significant is ever accomplished without encountering problems and setbacks. The ability to intervene when there are barriers to success is our third critical capability for success.
When the way forward is not known, anticipating, communicating and resolving problems actually creates a pathway for delivery. When the context of the desirable future is brought as the context in which to respond to problems and difficulties, people are enabled to take effective action in the face of uncertain circumstances. Such a response to problems galvanizes people throughout the organization, strengthening their resolve for success.
At the petrochemical complex, in order to meet their financial targets, leaders had to significantly reduce staff. As well as representing a problem for the individuals impacted, it was recognized that the job losses would have a big impact on the local economy and make the complex itself unsustainable. The leaders took action and created a “departure lounge” designed to support people in finding new employment before they left the complex and worked with the community to minimize the impact on the local economy. Proactively taking on these problems made a big difference and helped keep the complex on track for achieving its future.
Engaging people effectively throughout the organization and mobilizing them to act is what builds the momentum to deliver new results and a new future and is our fourth critical capability for success.
Eliciting people’s commitment and inspiration is key to unlocking the discretionary effort required to achieve something extraordinary. This calls for leaders to listen deeply and to make the connection between what’s important for the organization and for the individuals themselves. People seeing how they can contribute to an organization’s future inspires and motivates them to achieve the extraordinary.
As they embarked on their journey, the leaders of the petrochemical complex held many conversations in which the concerns of people throughout the organization were heard, and people had the opportunity to engage in what was meaningful to them about the new future. This became a practice for the leadership rather than merely an event, and allowed for the ongoing engagement of the workforce.
Generating renewed energy, commitment and effective action is our final critical capability for delivering new levels of business results. Individually, this requires leaders to recognize the benefits and limits of their preferred leadership style and approaches, and to transcend them.
The leaders of the petrochemical complex encountered “crucible moments” when their familiar ways of operating were insufficient for causing the desired action and results. Rather than blaming the circumstances or others, they confronted their own limitations and created new approaches that made progress in new ways.
Thanks to the combination of these five capabilities, within a year the petrochemical complex had achieved top quartile safety performance and had begun making a profit. 95% of those leaving the company had new employment arranged before they left, and many of the leadership team went on to new and bigger challenges.
While there are many capabilities that enhance and enable leadership, these are the five that have proved the most powerful for our clients and the most effective at having them achieve results beyond what they initially believed possible.5 Essential Leadership Capabilities that impact Results