Any organization that has successfully surmounted the start-up stage is optimized for efficiency rather than for strategic agility, the ability to exploit opportunities and duck threats with speed and self-confidence. Strategically agile organizations identify the most important hazards and opportunities earlier, formulate creative strategic initiatives more nimbly, and implement them faster than their competition. And the best part — developing strategically agile organizations and leaders is teachable.
Most CLOs focus on individual leaders as their units of measurement as opposed to the learning muscle of the entire system. The supposition is if the organization develops a critical mass of great leaders, the benefits will be accrued to the system. That's true to a point, but the multiplication of an individual leadership competency does not create an organizational competency, which is why we see so many organizations with incredibly successful leadership programs for top leaders, high potentials, etc., and listless business results.
Developing individual leadership competencies will only take an organization so far. The most successful corporations find ways to engage and inspire the masses, which then act with urgency each and every day. Leadership is not defined by where one sits in the hierarchy but by the behaviors that person exhibits. The most important leadership capability an organization can foster in the 21st century is the ability to create and re-create sustainable urgency aligned around a critical business opportunity. This means at least 50 percent of employees are exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at success and determined to make progress every day. This is a high bar to reach but attainable if properly executed and should be considered within the remit and responsibility of a CLO.
With windows of opportunity closing faster and faster, here are four things that can dramatically ratchet up an organization’s capability to seize the next make-or-break opportunity:
1. Urgency: Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles. Creating an organization of leaders requires building a sense of urgency that is strategically rational and emotionally exciting around a single opportunity.
2. Hierarchy: Consider whether your management structure is getting in the way of agility and innovation. Even minimally bureaucratic organizations are inherently risk-averse and resistant to change. Keep the traditional hierarchy while supplementing it with an informal network of volunteers focused on seizing critical opportunities.
3. Representation: Focusing exclusively on the top strata of leaders is a recipe for mediocrity. Leadership as an organizational competency means tapping into employees from all levels of your company. Developing strategic agility across the entire organization requires taking a diagonal slice meaning all ranks, roles and functions to ensure you’re building the proper cross-section of insight, experience and expertise.
4. Volume: Make leaders accountable for engaging and coordinating the masses to move with speed and agility. This requires creating a volunteer army of employees who are genuinely excited about realizing the opportunities at hand. This is where urgency comes in — if there’s an effective urgency strategy around an opportunity, more people will raise their hands to step up and lead new and innovative initiatives.
Establishing direction, aligning people around a critical opportunity and inspiring them to contribute can produce a level of dramatic change that most organizations would consider inconceivable. In actuality, it's a learnable competency. You just need to inspire more people to lead in order to make it happen.
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