Helping Senior Leaders Thrive

Results of our recently completed research cast a bright light how to help senior leaders succeed. We focus on results from two surveys: 1) one recently completed by talent management professionals and 2) research from a sample of mid and senior level leaders. These combined insights provide ideas for developing senior leaders.

Some Context First: The Work of Leaders

AchieveForum’s Work of Leaders model sets our insights into a broader view of leadership effectiveness. The model outlines three critical leadership tasks:

• Create Direction and Alignment
• Build Commitment and Capability
• Drive Execution and Performance

While performed by all leaders, the tasks are fulfilled differently depending on whether a leader is in a first, middle or senior level role.
In our results, we saw strong linkage between the first critical leadership task, ‘Creating Direction and Alignment,’ and top senior leader competency development priorities companies are pursuing. We illustrate this below.

 

Top 5 Competency Development Priorities 3 Critical Tasks

of  Leadership

Cluster  Strategic Thinking 1. Create direction and alignment
Managing Vision & Purpose
2. Build commitment and capability
Creating Strategic Alignment

 

Remaining two of the top 5 competencies 3.  Drive execution and performance
Leading Change
Developing Talent

 

Three Competencies Priorities: How do we help leaders build strategy skills?

The three competencies that emerged from our research fit together as an interdependent cluster of strategy skills. We outline an agenda for building these skills below.

1. Strategic Thinking is distinguished by the ability to complete evidence-based assessments of a company’s strategic situation. This means evaluating how well an organization’s goals, culture and business processes help it meet or exceed the needs of customers better than competitors and in a profitable way. Converting these insights into an outline of potential options for improving performance is also a key part of this competency.

• What is a key strategic thinking skill gap? A critical requirement of strategic thinking is breaking through conventions that prevent the ‘real deal,’ a candid view of what happens day-to-day, from shaping the conversation about how we do better.

• How do we help leaders close the gap? We provide learning and tools that help leaders use analytics with the right measure of discipline, sensitivity and courage to lead in strategic thinking outlining how to achieve greater success.

2. Creating Mission and Purpose means inspiring others with crisp messages that convey how a team and organization is making a difference to customers. Such messages are tailored to different audiences while preserving connections to the broader vision.

• What is a key mission and purpose skill gap? Creating succinct messages that appeal to important values, emphasize new possibilities and are adaptable to various audiences is challenging to do well. Often, mission and purpose messaging is uninspiring, wordy and lacking in resonance with key groups.

• How do we help leaders close the gap? We provide learning and tools for leaders to develop, tailor and deliver messages containing emotional appeal and impact. Providing ample skill practice is vital to helping people perform this strategy skill.

3. Strategic Alignment Strategic alignment involves pulling up and across an organization regarding how the strategic situation works and how to take advantage it. Alignment is a two-step of engaging others about vision and synthesizing the perspectives of others into a shared vision.

• What is a key strategy alignment skill gap? It is common for ‘shared vision’ to come down to the ‘personal vision’ of the senior-most leader. “Shared vision is what I say it is.” In this case, a leader devotes too much effort on defending his or her view and shuts down critical reflection in others that creates new possibilities for thinking and doing, weakening commitment. Endless cycles of consultation with others to find the best idea also limits effective strategic alignment.

• How do we close this key skill gap? We can provide people skills and tools that help them deftly execute the ‘two-step’ of aligning others to create a shared vision efficiently.

Strategy skills are a key part of senior leader performance. Our survey of talent management professionals reveal that three competency priorities are on the top of development agenda for company seniors. Given the increasing turbulence and disruptive threats many executives see in their environments, this will become even more important. The insight outlined above can be used to help leaders fulfill important aspects of their role with competence and confidence.

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