5 Uncommon attributes of effective strategic leaders
Author: Susannah Clarke
In this blog, PMI’s Head of Skills & Capability Practice Susannah Clarke, asserts that common wisdom on leadership attributes often overlooks the most important element essential for consistent success, a process approach.
“Leaders are responsible for creating an adaptable, flexible organisation that consistently achieves its strategic goals”.
Easy to say, but how does that manifest itself into something tangible? What is it that leaders need to do and how do they need to behave with their people?
Go to Google, LinkedIn, Harvard Business Review, or any of the resources you use for knowledge and information, you will find a plethora of articles on the role of a leader, how to be a good leader, the key habits of great leaders, behaviours of good leaders and so on.
I recently read Google’s “10 traits that will make you a successful leader”, according to Google’s internal research; when you read any of these you probably reflect that what they promote as behaviours or attributes are desirable and often practical, even though you may think it is rare to observe all of these in leaders you are familiar with.
But whenever I read these articles I am always left noting the absence of one key leadership attribute which we consider essential, the processes.
Over several decades working with senior leadership teams PMI consistently notices five common attributes which enable leaders to consistently achieve the goals of their organisation using a process approach rather than a results-driven approach:
1. Leaders develop and deploy an effective strategy
It is important that the leaders both at the top level and the functional or business unit level, own a strategy that leverages competitive advantage and is sustainable – my colleague, Warren Knight wrote about this in his blog, Everyone Needs a Game Plan.
2. Leaders operate effective leadership processes
We expect process operators to work to a defined process. It is no different for top managers, they must have their own leadership processes that they operate and through these ensure that they engage all employees, so that employees understand the strategy and the part they play in delivering it. More on this again from Warren Knight’s Deploying an Interconnected Strategy.
3. Leaders understand their customers’ needs and how the organisation delivers them.
Effective leaders ensure their organisation delivers for its customers today by paying attention to:
Value streams – the core activities, processes, in their organisation which deliver products and services their customers desire and are willing to pay for
Customers – they understand their market, their customers’ wants and expectations, and are working to delight them so that they can retain them in the future
A process approach to management – so that the current business delivers what the customers need:
Consistently: everyone operates the same standard i.e. it doesn’t depend on which area/location the work is done, there is a consistent way of the work being performed as a process.
Effectively: the product or service meets the customer needs, is delivered to the right quality so that the customer is satisfied, if not delighted, with what they get.
Efficiently: the way the work is done is efficient for the organisation, is not subject to waste, delays or high costs, so that the work is sustainable and will result in a healthy and profitable product or service.
A system approach to leadership – the work isn’t done in isolation or a silo, they see how the value streams interrelate across the functions to enable work to flow smoothly through their system supplying the needs of their external and internal customers.
4. They ask questions of inquiry
They do this because they are genuinely interested in how the work is performing and how the managers and operators of the work feel about the work, what works well, what opportunities of improvement they can see. This is key to them understanding whether their strategy is understood, how it is being implemented and whether it is generating the results.
These questions of inquiry aren’t limited to the Board Room or the monthly report, they are regularly asked in the workplace in the daily course of where the work is being done because they visit the workplace as a regular part of their leadership process. They are interested to understand if they need to adjust their aim, the strategic goals, based on the information the people and processes share with them.
5. They value contributions from others
Effective Leaders value the contribution of all employees and enable them to be as effective, efficient and adaptable as possible. They guide and govern all that they do by allocating specific roles and accountabilities, at every level in the business, from CEO to the Shop Floor; everyone knows their role and what is demanded of them so that their outputs are efficient, effective and agile. They ensure that the processes are owned and managed, just like any other asset. They seek external contributions from customers, competitors and macroeconomic factors.
Leaders who work this way will enable their organisation to maintain and improve every day to ensure sustainability. Leading by process generates value which enhances your Customers capability to do what they have to do better; only through this are you going to be able and agile, are you going to be able to thrive and survive.
If you want to be an effective strategic leader and make those uncommon attributes, common, start by building your capacity.
Susannah Clarke is Managing Partner at Process Management International (PMI), Head of Skills & Capabilities Practice and a specialist in the field of Executive and Performance Coaching. Susannah has worked extensively in the learning and development sector, starting her career with NatWest Markets in the City before spending 17-years with GSK as a consultant.
In 2011 Susannah joined Oracle University as Partner Director for EMEA and in 2013 joined PMI as Managing Partner. As co-author of ‘Implementing ISO9001:2015” she brings together more than 35 years’ experience leading, managing and consulting across different organisations. Susannah has written several blogs and published many articles in leading process and Quality focused publications.