I’ve had the incredible fortune to work alongside hundreds of leadership teams. From blue chip brands to mission-driven non-profits to emergent start-ups, there is a demonstrable pattern to the higher order of performance that sets the most extraordinary leadership teams apart. Over two decades of research and experience suggests that there are five disciplines that next-level leadership teams practice that ultimately enable them – and their organizations – to win the future:
- Solve complex problems – regularly, collaboratively and rapidly. Spend any amount of time around a C-suite and you’re immediately struck by the complexity of the challenges that litter the landscape. The best leadership teams are laser-beam focused on tackling the problems in the “too-hard box” (from growth to transformation), quickly forming and testing hypotheses until they arrive at an “answer” that they all agree is the best way forward. The more problems the leadership team tackles, the greater their rhythm/rigor and the stronger they become at making the impossible happen.
- Venture knowingly into the unknown. If there is one hallmark of the jagged age in which we operate, it is the perpetual uncertainty that engulfs us on a daily basis. From geo-political to economic shocks, the playing field for leadership is incredibly tumultuous. Rather than being paralyzed by the “fog”, top teams are actually energized by the “unknown”, understanding that such imbalances provide opportunities for those willing to take greater risks. One of the most successful techniques for negotiating uncertainty is to launch tightly-bounded experiments (for example, piloting a new store design on a small scale) that can quickly test the market’s response to the team’s collective thinking.
- Maintain integrity during periods of high stress and duress. Contrary to conventional wisdom, integrity is not simply a matter of right vs. wrong; it’s actually a much bigger notion than that. Integrity is the ability to maintain one’s form during periods of high stress and duress. We’ve all had the experience of making sub-optimal choices when the pressure was at its peak. In the most-demanding of circumstances, top leadership teams possess a lightness, spirit and purpose that enables them to transcend the moment. Instead of clinching too tightly, extraordinary leaders rise above the chaos and tap into another gear. Weekly, we (unfortunately) bear witness to numerous examples of leadership teams that don’t possess this capacity.
- Quiet the noise. Given the cacophony (overwhelming amount) of data that streams through organizations these days, executive teams must be maniacal about constantly simplifying and clarifying the leadership agenda. With Twitter, Yammer and LinkedIn occupying the “organizational airwaves”, leadership teams have to be great at connecting the dots across the company and continually putting forward the message that matters most: this is our reason for being and how we will win going forward. The best leadership teams manage this message, much like a media concern, to scale meaning across the enterprise. This is how cultures are built and refined in our modern era.
- Toggle between today and tomorrow. At the end of the day, leadership teams are ultimately and eventually judged on their ability to deliver growth. While pundits will forever argue the relative importance of execution vs. innovation, the truth of the matter is that we live (and lead) in a both-and moment where leadership teams are asked to drive exponential growth, all the time. The best in the business have an uncanny ability to toggle between focusing on the core and experimenting at the edge; this dynamic balance between delivering on today’s strategy (execution), while pushing out the boundaries of tomorrow’s business model (innovation), is what changes the game over the long haul.
Before you get lost in next week’s demands (buried in the avalanche of messages, meetings and mandates), take a moment and think about your leadership team. What would it take for your team to operate at the next level? Which of these five disciplines could you immediately integrate into your weekly routine?
Winning the future starts now.