This post is a companion to the interview with Mike Sayre, President and Chief Operating Officer of Metcalf & Associates on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on May 16, 2017: Seven Characteristics of Leadership 2020: A CEO Story. An abbreviated version of this post appeared in Columbus CEO on January 25, Preparing Aspiring Leaders for Key Roles. The following article is an article published in Forbes March 2017.
Technology, innovation, and geopolitical change are accelerating the need for U.S. companies to get (or stay) ahead of the competition. But for companies to fully evolve, attract the best people, and produce the best products and services, their leaders must evolve too. Leaders who don’t keep up will slowly be overtaken by those who continue to keep up with the changing tides.
Take technology, for example, and the evolution of flip phones to smartphones. While this evolution has been widely noticeable, many leaders don’t think of themselves as the “flip phones” of leadership.
Kate worked for a financial services company. The company occupied a competitive market space in a complex environment that was changing quickly. She began consulting as their CFO to address profitability and controls, and after a couple of months, she was asked to join the company as president.
Kate’s leadership skills and extensive business experience enabled the company to address some internal challenges as well as position it to be a much more valuable player in the industry. Specifically, she revised financial processes to ensure accurate payments, addressed organizational structure and moved people into roles where they would have a greater impact. Within three years of Kate joining the firm, the company was sold at a substantial increase in valuation.
In today’s quickly changing and complex environment, Kate exhibited the competencies leaders need both now and well into the future to succeed. In our book, Leadership 2050, Mike Morrow-Fox, Susan Cannon and I discuss the following qualities leaders should possess as the rates of technological and geopolitical change in our world increase exponentially more.
1. Be professionally humble. In the above example, Kate not only identified the company’s purpose and guiding principles but actually used them daily when communicating with people so they understood what she expected them to produce and how she expected them to behave. When everyone was aligned, they made the right decisions and took credit for the organization’s success.
2. Have an unwavering commitment to the right action. Everything Kate did was driven by the company mission and Kate’s personal values. On one occasion, she told a major customer they could no longer talk to her people because he continually berated them. As a leader, it’s important for your followers to understand the goal of difficult actions and their purpose.
3. Be a 360-degree thinker. It is imperative for leaders to understand their industry and trends driving future success. The changes Kate led the company through involved updating processes to position the organization as a bigger competitor in the industry. She needed to understand the company, the industry, and best practices from other industries. She invested in growing business units while defunding the commodity businesses.
4. Be intellectually versatile. Leaders who can draw from a broad range of knowledge are better equipped to anticipate and lead change. Kate was highly committed to the company she was transforming, yet she made time to continue to learn. She values her professional network and is highly involved with her family and the arts. These outside interests allow her to recharge and remain resilient, which is crucial when work becomes very demanding.
5. Be highly authentic and reflective. Leaders who continually seek feedback and model growth promote change-friendly cultures. Kate is authentic in that she not only lived her personal mission and values, but also sought feedback. Though she works long hours and delivers results, she also takes the time to think about how her actions will ripple through her business and how her partners, clients and competitors will respond and be impacted. It is this focus that sets leaders apart over time.
6. Be able to inspire followership. During this and other turnarounds, Kate’s attrition rate was minimal — even during layoffs. She was as transparent as possible in explaining the company’s challenges and the opportunities they were pursuing. She dealt with challenging issues head on in ways that aligned with her values. Her humility and commitment to the right action were also highly inspirational; her team knew she was working for the best interest of the organization and all its stakeholders — not her personal gain.
7. Be innately collaborative. Kate continually sought input from across the business, her board and her customers. Her goal was to create a highly successful organization, and she knew that she could only do it if she created an environment where everyone worked together. By hearing different points of views based on different roles, there is a better focus on solving problems and creating market-leading solutions.
It is imperative that leaders continue to develop their mindset as well as their skills and behaviors to stay ahead of the accelerating pace of change. Kate models the mindset and behaviors required to transform a company working in a highly complex, ever-changing and competitive space. These mindsets and behaviors are the foundation for leaders. By going through a structured leadership development process, leaders can build the skills necessary to create continual innovation in their organizations.
So don’t become the outdated “flip phone” of leadership. Invest in your development to help you evolve at the rate you and your company need to thrive.
To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.
About the Author
Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.