Climate control leadership
What do future leaders need to be able to do?
It’s no longer enough to be able to set direction and hire smart people to execute. It’s no longer enough to be an unassuming ‘servant leader’ who acts as supportive coach, especially when the nature of the game you are playing changes so frequently.
Perhaps tomorrow's leaders need to think of their role as being less ‘command and control’ or ‘mission command’ and more about ‘climate control’, ie focusing on creating and sustaining the context, conditions and culture for individuals, teams and business performance to thrive.
In order to create an environment where people can thrive, develop and contribute to the company, leaders have to be themselves at work and, critically, be consistent in their behaviours.
Leaders can’t shout in groups and be supportive in one-to-ones. They can’t claim “I’m approachable”, then close the office door. They can’t only want feedback today, they need to seek it all the time. Consistency builds trust.
And it can't just be senior leaders who are ‘authentic’. While they can role model it, the same style needs to flow through the organisation, encouraged by behavioural metrics (aligned to reward and recognition) being given equal prominence to performance metrics.
An authentic leadership style means leaders will speak their minds. But the team needs to be comfortable to have these open and honest conversations.
Another job for our climate control leader is to create an atmosphere of psychological safety in teams. This is not straightforward. It’s easy to say people have a “safe space” to work in and speak freely, but there’s an unspoken anxiety about what people can really say. How much can you trust your colleagues? How much can you speak out? People can feel quite isolated despite the good intentions of leadership.
Authentic leadership requires leaders to be honest with themselves too. If you don’t believe you’re in the right organisation to thrive, then you may have to move on, preferably on your own terms.
Making the matrix work
There is simply too much to manage and too much constant change to expect leaders to know everything. But how can you delegate and not abdicate control? It does require a leap of faith to let go of things but leaders should feel more confident to do so if they have created the right structure, recruited the right skills and aligned a team around a common sense of purpose and authentic leadership style.
It also requires a leap from the line and into the matrix, setting common objectives and combining business units with functional centres of excellence to ensure all critical decisions are taken by ‘four eyes’, not just two.
The Gen Z challenge/opportunity
The post-Covid shift to home-working presents a challenge for the next generation of leaders to learn leadership skills and requires today’s leaders to adapt.
The next generation has not grown up within the corporate structures many leaders have. They can be impatient to progress, demand transparency and ask for regular feedback, creating an opportunity to fast-track their progression.
Regular feedback makes much more sense than waiting for an annual appraisal. It provides an opportunity not just to manage performance but also to accelerate learning. It also ensures future leaders are used to giving regular feedback and will continue the habit.
The challenges for senior leaders are clear: more listening and less telling, more conversations and direct involvement, less classroom-based training and more cross-functional working.
The importance of purpose
It’s much easier to lead and to be authentic when everyone has aligned goals and sense of purpose. When everyone is on the same journey with the same intentions, there’s inherently less friction.
But as organisations grow, they can lose sight of their purpose. Many try to confect a new one, rather than rediscovering what it was originally and how that might need to evolve.
Building a common understanding of purpose becomes even more important on the steep slope from start-up to scale, when companies expand beyond a cohesive foundation team to a much bigger and more diverse group who will arrive with different assumptions and interpretations of what the organisation is about.
In the past, organisations would consider their purpose lasting 10+ years but in these days of hyperchange, purpose (and strategy) need re-examining much more frequently than once a decade.
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