When we think of leading Fortune 500 companies, skyscrapers or large amphitheaters packed wall to wall in an illuminated light show ready for the unveiling of a giant new initiative or some innovative new product come to mind. It makes sense because this is the image that we are usually given. However, in times of accelerated global change, a new understanding how to lead, navigate and achieving organizational success is emerging. That being, that is more to leading and making it to the top as a global company than grandiose ideas and attention-grabbing personalities. The basis for the success of top leaders lie many times in correctly assessing their environments, establishing and implementing clear shared visions and values, and attention on how to manage – real and perceived – hurdles and limitations.
Successful transformations and leadership involve more than just changing structures, operations, and corporate image, you need to change people’s behaviors. This is not an easy task. The challenge for navigating your organization through troubled waters and change is to help people think and feel different in order to accomplish your shared goals.
Here are five key lessons for aspiring leaders from recent research and our experience of working with successful global executives:
1. Learn to lead yourself before you can lead others
Think like a CEO and act like a leader. Leading starts with having a goal of where we want you want to be and where you want your company to get to. Create a clear strategy, identify results and keep things moving. Be a positive and effective role model to others. Know your values and stick to them. Work hard to improve, grow, and evolve into a better version. Make the best decisions for the people that you serve. Organize and influence people while creating a sense of purpose for the organization.
2. Be a human force multiplier
There is more to leadership than managing structures and strategies. Leading consultants and researchers point to the fact that the best leaders are in the energy business. Their job is to inspire and draw the best from others in order to create multiplier effects across their organizations. Top leaders amplify the energy around them in orders of magnitude. The best CEOs realize that leading people is a privilege. A definitive moment is shift of focus from “I” to “us.”
3. Think like a beginner and not like an expert
It is true that top business people spent much time in meetings and analyzing detailed reports that help in the decision-making process. We strive to become experts in our fields of business. But, becoming a leader also involves letting go or deprogramming the expert mindset to allow for the diversity of ideas and opinions. Zen masters point out that in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert mind there a few. Finding a balance is key. Learning to listen is crucial. Leaders not only listen to words, but also to underlying thoughts, feeling and possibilities before jumping to their own conclusions. It is essential to remain open and inquisitive. The mind of the beginner is free of restrictions, context and biases. Leaders cannot limit themselves by their presumed knowledge of what is possible.
4. Be tough on issues and soft on people
Top leaders have the highest standards and a relentless drive to succeed for their organizations and people. They hold people accountable and make hard decisions. They push the boundaries of what is possible by being practical, rigorous and demanding. But, at the same time, make others fell recognized and valued. Leaders involve people in the decisions that affect them. By being hard on issues and soft on people leaders can deliver critical messages clearly and directly without destroying relations, and the same time building an effective organizational culture. These action help to build credibility and trust within and outside their companies which enables them to act effectively and guide them to greatness.
5. Connect - tell your story from the heart
A lot of work goes into defining a vision, setting context, and driving results. Many leaders prepare and present ideas through slides, charts, and images. But, getting others on board is greatly heightened when your messages connect to head and the heart. When presenting data and analysis to make your case, also provide others with real-life experiences, images and stories. You can attain better buy-in and commitment by connecting emotionally to people with ideas. By focusing on connecting with people’s emotions you can will spark change and actions that lead to success.
6. Better time management to advance your agenda
Research indicates that successful Fortune 500 leaders focus on advancing key agendas for the business they manage. You can plan agendas for the next three months. Decide on the three most important issues to address and task to accomplish over the next 90 days. Prepare for shorter and more focused meetings. Default meeting time can be reduced from 60 to 30 minutes. You can set goal, outcomes and preparation materials beforehand. Also, better time management can help to set aside for reflecting on the growth of your business, and your well-being. Adopt outcome thinking and macro-level visioning.
The transformation from a good manager to a great leader is rich with opportunities to become your best, and growing your company to the next level. Being a top leader is a higher calling as mastery bring many others along with you for the journey.
An effective way to facilitate a leader’s engagement is through coaching. Coaching empowers leaders to do exceptional work. Leaders working as coaches can establish an advantageous relationship that uncovers hidden strengths and weaknesses within others. A recent study of Fortune 500 companies found that 48% of leaders that underwent coaching exhibited an increase in work quality. This led to higher engagement and productivity, improving their effectiveness in leadership roles. Coaching also provides the outlet leaders need to motivate and inspire their team.
Written by Francisco Montalvo
Francisco Montalvo is a practitioner-scholar, co-founder of New Ways Consulting Group LLC, and part of N.E.W.S.® global network.