Lagging performance is among the most glaring indications something is awry in an organization. Then there are the quieter, less splashy but still foreboding signals: a culture of distrust, the uncomfortable undiscussables, staff disengagement, disorganization — all of which indicate a disconnect that could cost a business tremendously if not addressed.
When confronted with a problem, or better yet, before it becomes a problem, leadership consultants Bob Anderson and Bill Adams recommend organizational leaders first turn inward to drive lasting change.
In his many experiences coaching leaders, Anderson said he was surprised how often he observed senior leaders champion something then get in their own way. That high up on the corporate ladder, Anderson said, “no one wants to tell the emperor he has no clothes.”
“It wasn’t that the leader didn’t believe it at all; it was that they were running on autopilot, old behaviors run by deeper assumptions and an old identity that was very risky to change,” he said.
But, “no transformation can happen without a preceding transformation in the effectiveness but also in the underlying consciousness of a leader,” said Anderson, who is the founder, chairman and chief development officer of The Leadership Circle and co-founder and chairman of Full Circle Group.
The transformation begins with taking ownership of one’s own development.
“There are very few organizations and a very small percent of leaders that actually think about the developmental agenda as part of their responsibility as a leader and part of the business results,” said Adams, CEO and co-founder of Full Circle Group, North America, and CEO of The Leadership Circle.
Often, Adams said the responsibility for development has been left exclusively to human resources or to the organization’s chief learning officer. But it’s critical that leaders see how their own personal development, and the collective development for an organization’s leaders, ultimately connects to business results.
“When it’s owned at the top and they see their role as developing their leaders as well increasing their capacity and capability, it makes a difference,” he said.
But as it stands, “there’s a lot about how we’re approaching this that just doesn’t work,” Anderson said.
The two, who recently published “Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results,” see a greater impact when a leader’s developmental agenda is individually and collectively focused.
And by individual, Adams and Anderson charge leaders to get introspective. That can be a tall order, especially when what’s always been used to achieve a specific outcome has always worked. Except who can really say that in this age of rapid change?
With today’s global economy growing increasingly complex, Adams said leaders who were once opposed to or unaware of the need to change their leadership approach will have to if they want to remain competitive.
“The dearth we have right now on basic skills within senior leaders is the highest I’ve ever seen in my career,” he said.
But an ability to deal with conflict, to speak with each other directly, to make effective and informed decisions and other leadership skills can’t stand on their own, if a leader doesn’t have their “inner game” in order, Anderson said.
Inner game is about self-awareness and consciousness, Adams explained. Self-esteem, how leaders define themselves as people, determines whether and how well what skills, competencies and knowledge they possess ae actually expressed.
He recalled a CEO who became aware of how his showing a higher level of compassion improved many of his interactions with others. “If [self-awareness] doesn’t exist, what we basically have done is cap the performance of the organization, or level of awareness or consciousness of our senior leaders.”
Supporting a feedback system is a first step, Anderson said. “To really own the agenda and say I’ve got as much learning to do as anybody and lead from that place, that’s scary for most leaders.”
So prepare to get a little uncomfortable. To stay afloat in this increasingly complicated business environment, it might be time to get vulnerable, he and Anderson said.
“You don't get into these positions without providing value,” Adams said. “Now the question mark is, how is it that you're going to provide the best value going forward?”