Whenever I work with senior leaders, there is one question I always ask them.
What kind of culture would you need to be at your best and make your fullest contribution as a leader?
There are four main answers I typically get:
- “I will be at my best in a climate where leaders have real clarity about the value they must bring.”
- “A place where there’s a deep commitment to the organization and to being the best possible leaders.”
- “An organization where there’s high trust and mutual support among leaders, and this extends into relationships with employees.”
- “Everyone is part of one company, fully committed to drive its success.”
After years of asking the question over and over again and getting the same answer from leaders in all sectors, at all levels, and in different countries around the world, I have come to the conclusion that far too many senior leaders are craving a new kind of leadership culture.
Despite that, we struggle to make any progress, remaining trapped within ineffective and even dysfunctional leadership cultures without any idea how to break out.
It’s not hard to figure out why so many leaders are trapped in this situation. We are surrounded by mediocrity.
Think of your own experience. There’s a good chance you and your fellow leaders haven’t been on the same page and have worked at cross-purposes because strategic clarity has been low. Or maybe the primary focus is on protecting turf and competing internally, silo against silo.
Conflict runs rampant. Frustration is high, and getting anything done feels next to impossible.
Or your experience may be one of sheer apathy, where there is little energy or vitality. You and your fellow leaders seem to be going through the motions, bystanders cloaked in fancy leadership titles. It’s exhausting and demoralizing.
Whatever the experience, you may end up questioning why you ever became a leader in the first place. You also know deep down that there has to be a better way. There is.
In my book, The Leadership Contract, I describe the need for leaders to create a strong community of leaders characterized by a high degree of clarity and commitment.
First, all leaders are clear in their understanding that the community of leaders is built upon a shared aspiration for great leadership.
Everyone understands that leadership is, for any organization, the ultimate differentiator. A community of leaders is not created merely to establish a better way for leaders to work together, although that is one of the benefits. Instead, the goal is to make your company more successful and drive sustainable business achievement.
It’s about establishing a one-company mindset. The community of leaders is based on the reality that no one leader has all the answers. Leadership is more distributed today and we must work together to leverage the capability, ingenuity, and commitment of all leaders and employees.
Second, there is a high degree of clarity about the kind of leadership required for success. As a leader you have a clear understanding of the leadership expectations. You know what you must do to make the organization successful, and you know how you need to lead. You don’t settle for lame or bad leadership.
In fact, a strong community of leaders makes it easier to remove those individuals who consistently fail to live up to their leadership expectations and obligations. A few bad leaders can undermine overall leadership culture; a true community of leaders is less likely to suffer laggards.
When you have achieved critical mass in your community, there will be an emotional rush. You will feel the excitement that comes with a high level of clarity and commitment. You will be blown away by the level of trust and mutual support. You will feel part of something great, something special and something rare.
That’s what a true community of leaders is all about. Do you have one in your organization? Read and reflect on the questions below. Use them as a basis of a discussion with your executive team and broader group of leaders.
To what extent are your leaders:
- Clear on the strategic direction of your organization
- Working to create excitement about the future
- Sharing a common aspiration to be great leaders
- Leading with a “one-company” mindset
- Holding each other accountable and calling out unproductive behavior
- Celebrating success and key milestones
- Breaking down silos and collaborating effectively
- Making sure internal politics and personal agendas take a back seat
- Demonstrating resilience and resolve in the face of adversity
- Supporting one another and having each other’s back
Building a strong community of leaders in your company will give your organization a competitive edge. However, to get there, you have to start with an honest self-assessment of where you are today, while making a renewed commitment to greater clarity and commitment among your leaders.
This week’s gut check for leaders asks: What kind of leadership culture would you need to be at your best?