Our team’s recent research around what distinguishes the best leaders from the rest has given me the opportunity to reflect on the leaders and leadership teams I’ve had the privilege of working with over my 25+ years as an organization development consultant. Recently, I came across a binder of notes and photos from a workshop that I facilitated long ago.
It was circa 2004 when I was brought in to help facilitate a culture shift at a Denver-based organization. The CEO recognized the immediate need to change the status quo. My first assignment was to lead a group of 80 engineers in a dialogue about what it means to be an effective leader. I remember this workshop like it was yesterday: the animated dialogue, the struggle to articulate the issues that we were trying to address, the “ah-ha” moments, the feeling of being overwhelmed, and the energy that was eventually harnessed to take on the challenge of defining what leadership should and could look like in order to create a stronger organization.
To kick things off, I jotted this working definition of leadership down on a flip chart:
Leadership involves realizing opportunity in the middle of impossible and intractable circumstances that, if left to self-organize, would remain in a state of equilibrium, status quo, or worse, drift to low performance.
Our conversations evolved into the formation of five leadership imperatives—symbolic of the direction that the organization needed to head in to not only survive, but thrive:
- Vision and Communication
- Integrity and Authenticity
- Organizing and Architecting Excellence
- Enrolling and Developing Talent
- Changing the Game: Strategies and Payoffs
Little did we know that these imperatives would form the foundation for a decade of growth and prosperity—transforming this organization from a 225 million-dollar company to a billion dollar-company.
More than a decade later, as I sit here reflecting, I’m reminded that the core values of effective leadership haven’t changed. The five tenets that we developed in that workshop define what our research shows—that purposeful leadership can and will change the world around us, regardless of the industry, audience, geography or time period.
The data tells the story
Linkage is preparing to introduce a new way to think about leadership based on our recent analysis of over 100,000 leaders worldwide. Ultimately, when we distilled the data points, we revealed five core areas—or commitments—that are vital to every leader’s success:
- Inspire: Provide people inspiration for the future by directing energy toward a vision
- Engage: Offer the opportunity to engage, be one’s best, and thrive at work
- Achieve: Attain efficiency by promulgating control, structure and clarity in order to deliver excellence
- Innovate: Embolden freedom of creation, reimagining and changing in a way that builds competitive success
- Become: Show up as a standard of spirit, purpose, gritty determination and kindness
In the coming months and years, we hope to change the conversation about leadership, leaders, and how we each realize our mission—much like I did with that group of engineers who were so thirsty to create a vision for the future, but didn’t know where to start.
Start the conversation now with your leadership team by reflecting open and candidly on these core areas. Do you
- Inspire people with a vision about their future and the future of the organization?
- Engage your talent and use it to its fullest potential?
- Give people the clarity and structure they need every day to be excellent?
- Foster innovation and change, and move beyond the status quo?
- Show up as an intentional, authentic and courageous role model?
These questions may just lead you, your team and your organization down a path to a more purposeful future. Once you’ve had a chance to give it a try, let us know your reactions and what themes emerged.