“Leadership is like a muscle. The more intelligently you train, the stronger you get.” John Ryan, Center for Creative Leadership’s president and CEO, is a big believer in giving leaders a serious workout. Based on CCL’s research and practical experience and Ryan’s 40 years of leadership in the military, higher education and nonprofits, he advises leaders to step up their leadership training in five areas:
1. Teamwork and collaboration are critical for organizations in two ways. Internally, you won’t get much done without it. Externally, you need partnerships with like-minded firms that advance your strategy, whether it’s developing new products or breaking into emerging markets. But fostering teamwork is not easy. In a recent CCL study, 97 percent of senior executives told us collaboration is a key factor in organizational success. But just 47 percent believed the leaders in their organizations are skilled collaborators.
2. Managing change. View it positively and, of course, with a sense of urgency. There’s no point in fearing change since it’s inevitable and we can’t control it. Second, focus on adapting plans as necessary to external pressures. We all had our strategic plans before the recent recession hit. Some organizations stubbornly stuck with them, believing things would return to normal quickly. Others saw a sea change in the marketplace and adjusted their plans accordingly. Third, it’s important to manage the resistance to change you are bound to see in your colleagues. It’s your role and responsibility to help them understand what’s going on externally and why your organization needs to adapt. Be sure to involve others in the design and implementation of major change initiatives, whether it’s a workforce restructuring or a new product development process.
3. Communication. As an executive with a demanding schedule, it’s easy to be cut off from the rest of the organization. We can all learn a lesson from A.G. Lafley, the retired CEO of Procter & Gamble. He was a great listener, often visiting consumers in their homes or joining them for trips to the store. In addition to being P&G’s CEO, Lafley also established himself as the company’s Chief Listening Officer. He knew that getting good ideas required asking people for input and listening to it very carefully. We should all be Chief Listening Officers in our own organizations.
4. Learning agility. To succeed in a world where our work is always changing, where challenges are unpredictable and competition abounds, we need to be agile learners. We need to apply our new knowledge. Perhaps most of all, we need to believe we can rise to the challenge. There’s a growing body of neuroscience research that says we can learn new behaviors and modify deep-set behaviors at any age. It takes hard work and real focus, but all of us really can learn new and effective behaviors — and help take our organizations to new levels of performance.
5. Judgment is at the core of leadership. Fundamentally, it’s about getting the most important calls right — when it comes to both people and strategy. Without good people judgment, you won’t have a strong team. Without a strong team, your strategy will not be executed effectively. Look first of all for men and women who have demonstrated strong performance, integrity and the desire to assume higher levels of responsibility. Watch out for candidates who treat others insensitively and abrasively and put their self-interests above the company good. Strategy judgment calls require leaders to find new paths. Success depends on asking the right questions, experimenting and constantly adjusting your approach. It hinges even more on your level of humility. Are you too confident in your own judgment? Do you believe too strongly in your old ways of doing business? Do you think that because something has worked many times before, it will work again now? Do you have the humility to understand that even with great collaboration you will not get everything right, and that you can’t know everything yourself?
To read more about strengthening your leadership skills from John Ryan, download the paper “Accelerating Performance: Five Leadership Skills You and Your Organization Can’t Do Without.”