Why Is It All So Generic?

I’ve long been fascinated by the approaches companies take to advance their ‘big ticket’ strategies and priorities – particularly when it comes to encouraging leaders to better align their thinking and actions to support the way forward.

More often than not, in my experience, there’s a sense that a significantly updated or new direction requires those in leadership roles to demonstrate more of, different or ‘new’ behaviours. This certainly makes sense from both a logical and intuitive perspective.

Over the pasgeneric boardroomt couple of weeks, I’ve started to immerse myself in three distinct projects along this theme, in three very different organizations. The task at hand is to identify, validate and then develop strategies that integrate these new leadership behaviours.

What’s surprising, during initial conversations, is the ‘sameness’ of key leadership behaviours that emerge for leaders across very different industries and with quite different strategies. In my experience, seven broad themes emerge:

  1. Self-Awareness (reflection, empathy, transparency, etc.)
  2. Performance (inspiring, driving, motivating, etc.,)
  3. Relationships (trusting, collaborating, partnering, etc.)
  4. Perspective (strategic, holistic, integrated, etc.)
  5. Innovation (creative, challenging the status quo, etc.)
  6. Talent (identifying, fostering, developing, etc.)
  7. Change (leading, guiding, advocating, etc.)

How is this possible? Remember, these companies are in very different industries with quite different strategies. And I’ve seen this many times over the past several years.

Perhaps, as argued by one senior VP, the behaviours required for today’s leadership challenges are very similar – despite differing business strategies. It’s hard to argue with leadership actions related to fostering talent, strengthening partnerships, leading change, etc.

But what if these are just the ‘table stakes’ to get and stay in the game? What if these more generic behaviours are required expectations and not differentiating behaviours? Could strategic success actually be more elusive because of the blandness and one-size-fits-all of these behaviours?

The next time you’re tempted to go generic or succumb to popular business lore in terms of critically needed leadership behaviours, take the time to dive deeper by asking the following five questions before you commit to your final selection:

  1. Are we clear on what our vision, goals and priorities will require more of, less of or differently from our leaders? For each goal and priority, articulate the key behaviour(s) that leaders will need to drive performance. Strive for a left column/right column approach so you can see how these line up. Focus on those behaviours that will truly leverage your differentiated niche or value proposition and that can be realized within the next 12–18 months.
  2. businessleader1What type of culture do we need to sustain, modify or build? How will our leaders need to ‘show up’ to live that culture? To have any chance at successful outcomes, your company’s culture must be aligned and supportive of your chosen strategy. Do you even know the type of culture you currently have versus what you need to build? Take time to articulate the key shifts required in your culture and use those to determine the key behaviours required of leaders to ensure the desired culture takes root and flourishes.
  3. How much difference is there between our stated values and what is really going on our organization? What will our leaders need to do differently to consistently demonstrate those values? It’s a common occurrence – what we say we value as an organization gets overlooked, diffused or ignored in the hectic pace of daily operations. Sometimes this isn’t such a big deal, but other times it generates all kinds of repercussions for employees, clients and shareholders. Often what we believe are our commonly agreed-upon values aren’t really all that commonly shared. As part of your deep dive, consider changes required in leadership behaviour that will support and drive the values you expect to see in your organization. Again, focus on those high-leverage behaviours for the next 18-24 months.
  4. Do some key processes and practices need to be adjusted to support our direction and priorities? Are there some key leadership behaviours that will support the transition of these elements? As you identify key changes required in major processes, systems and practices to support your direction and priorities, you’ll want to identify the key leadership behaviours that will drive uptake and adoption of these new ways of doing business. A new approach to soliciting customer feedback on a real-time basis, for example, may require leaders to be much more nimble and flexible in the way they conceptualize, design and deliver their products and services.
  5. Finally, what are those few key, high-impact leadership behaviours that will be critical to our success?? Avoid the temptation to select multiple behaviours or to aggregate them too broadly into generic categories. Focus on the top three to five leadership behaviours that you believe will really make a difference within the next 18-24 months. Then take those to your key stakeholders to get their input and feedback.

Making the effort to dive deeper into your business strategy, culture, values and processes to identify a few pivotal leadership behaviours is key to setting the stage for successful change. Avoid the temptation to be generic or join the crowd. You’ll be truly able to help your leaders realize success and achieve the vision that they’ve set out to accomplish when you focus on the behaviours that matter most to your business.

To find out more about how to identify and validate the key leadership behaviours that will drive your business strategy, contact me today (scott@cygnusconsultants.com or 250-882-8830.)

User Comments

There are 2 comments on this post.

  1. While tangential perhaps, I fully support your thoughtful comments. I have been in many senior roles in disparate public and private sector environment and there is a “sameness” to the leadership skills and attributes across them all without exception.

    They can be developed and supported but it does require focus and effort.

  2. Wise words as usual, Scott. You are so right. Leadership behaviours must be aligned/attuned to the specific organization and its strategic goals, values etc., not just the ‘flavour of the month’ or generic skills from some website or textbook guru. Applies to all in leadership roles, whatever their discipline.

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