By Dave Crisp
Sounding a lot like David K. Hurst’s new book that I reviewed two posts ago, prestigious Boston Consulting Group has plenty of insightful advice about traps new CEOs should avoid in Debunking the Myths of the First 100 Days (no cost sign up for the whole item).
Those hiring or promoting people to CEO roles would do well to take note, because much of this advice runs counter to what boards and other hiring bodies expect of new leaders, which could lead to confusing, mixed signals and misunderstandings.
They open by noting that regulatory complexity for corporations has increased since 1955 by six times (a 600 per cent increase) contributing to a 35 times (3,500 per cent) increase in "complicatedness" — their word. With that comes a need to manage smarter, not harder, that runs all the way up to CEO level. This is no longer a nice to have, but a necessity and, again, many hiring or aspiring to such roles don’t "get it" yet.
This raises the question of whether any of us can be smart enough to lead well or whether our machines, organizations and societies have simply surpassed individual human capabilities. The answer seems to be we can — about 18 per cent of leaders do it, with most of them developing the skills but following natural inclinations to be collaborative, supportive and engaging.
We’re not entirely sure where these natural motivations come from, but we need to figure out whether we can increase them in potential leadership pools. The fact this minority lead effectively will soon mean every leader will need to learn these or be left behind as the growing complexity of organizations will increasingly favor those who develop this way.
Among Boston Consulting Group's myth-busting advice:
•spend time understanding yourself as well as the new organization to develop fit
•don’t jump to bold acts without first assessing the context (definitely advice Hurst would agree with)
•don’t just grab for top talents and expect a team to emerge
•don’t just slap down new tough standards without realizing morale is an issue and you’ll be judged as well
•don’t make it clear you need to be the smartest person in the room.
All in all, you can see people are key to improving things, so spend the time needed to get people onside and working together. Boston Consulting Group's examples are great illustrations of what can go right or wrong during critical transitions of leadership and how a new leader can positively (or negatively) affect results through how they approach the changeover.
Reading this you understand immediately that today’s leadership requirements are more sophisticated and require developing a sense of balance and people-motivation that wasn’t seen as a major need in the past.
Part of standard management lore is the concept of evolution of organizations and the need for evolving forms of leadership to take them through growth cycles. The usual description is: Starting with the lone entrepreneur who guides everything herself, there is evolution toward a more organized managerial leadership that standardizes the typical hodge podge that entrepreneurs cobble together.
Standardization allows a new stage of greater growth up to the point where things get too rigidly regulated and a change of leaders toward innovators is needed to break out into new territory. What doesn’t usually appear in this model is any need for a move from the one-person command-and-control style typical of many entrepreneurs to a more people-optimizing collaborative leader who, yes, wants some standardization, but is already focused on drawing out innovation from the larger group instead of all ideas emanating from the top only.
As usual we see in the older model that people and how they are managed for best results tend to have been overlooked whereas in fact they are the most important factors in today’s drive for success. As we start to see more boards becoming aware of these needs, we will want to look at all these previously accepted models to see what has been missed that needs to be realigned to reflect the importance of leadership that can cope with a more complex requirement to include, engage and energize innovators among their workers in addition to the standard basics they teach in business schools.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.
Identifying what’s been missing in such common models that are so often taken as givens is key to giving HR the prominence it needs for better results today. The more of these we can find and fix, the fewer myths we will labour under that hold back what’s needed in organization management and leadership.