All across businesses – whether they be multinational conglomerates or smaller enterprises – choices are made every day as to how much an individual decides to ‘lean in’ (to coin the Sheryl Sandberg phrase).
Anyone, at any level, can serve as a leader in an organization. It requires an ability to establish a vision and overarching strategy for the work, cast that vision to others and purposefully lead the execution of the strategy. All of us are required to lead in our own lanes.
However, the challenges facing today’s businesses require far more than leading in your own lane. They require a true concern for the bigger picture. It’s simply not good enough for your team to be successful, have projects completed on deadline and to be meeting other metrics of effectiveness. An organizational leader has her pulse on the broader issues of the larger organization: revenue challenges, customer perceptions, staff morale, the launch of new programs, etc.
The organization counts on all staff to step up as organizational leaders in order for the tide to rise. A rising tide, indeed, lifts all boats. A sense of organizational purpose must be felt and acted upon within every corner so that everyone feels responsible for moving the needle. And, when it isn’t moving, the sense of urgency to turn things around should also be collectively felt.
How are organizational leaders cultivated? Three pivotal aspects of work culture come to mind: 1 - creating a line of sight back to the vision/strategies/goals, 2 – authentic empowerment of staff and 3 - encouraging individuals to challenge the process for the greater good.
Creating a Line of Sight
The degree to which employees believe that their performance and contributions impact the organization’s success is directly related to the effort with which they will work to achieve it. Clarity of vision, and crispness of messaging to employees with a consistent articulation of measures is what employees look for. The absence of it breeds cynicism at best, and organizational failure at worst.
Authentic Empowerment of Staff
The word ‘empower’ itself is often bandied about in desperate attempts to convince both leaders and followers of the sincerity of intentions. Empowered staff, however, needn’t be told that they’re being empowered – they just are. Responsibilities are delegated to those closest to the work and once the performance bar and measures are clear, employees must be turned loose to drive the work forward. This builds the confidence of staff who are not only believing in the overall mission, but are now convinced that they can deliver on it – at both the local and organizational levels.
Allowing Challenges to the Process
For employees to truly rise as organizational leaders they must be able to raise suggestions and challenges to the status quo. There’s no greater killer of innovative, organizational leadership than the belief that ideas are dead on arrival. If leaders are required to be authentic truth tellers (see my series on 'Radical Leaderhip'), then they must be allowed to speak truth to power – particularly when the stakes are high and those at the top need to hear that truth in order to course correct. Even in times of prosperity, leaders at all levels generally desire to bring their best selves to work, with their best ideas given the proper air time. Allowing them to constructively challenge the process – whatever that is – serves as a key ingredient to cultivating an organizational leadership mentality.
Organizational leadership, at its best, is able to harness the talents of the individual even while encouraging those talents to be applied to the ‘whole’. It breeds those who can lead from the top, middle or bottom of an organization.