Defining Leadership Is Vital

April 26, 2019

Defining Leadership Is Vital

unsplash-logoMarkus Spiske

 

 

Ask any five management experts what makes a good leader, and chances are you will get six answers: Aspiration. Inspiration. Imagination. Creativity. Authenticity. Integrity. It’s time for a reality check. While there’s no one-word answer to the leadership question, Mckinsey has identified the stepping stones that enable organisations to develop more effective leadership across the organisation.

To pinpoint them, they looked at the major schools of leadership, including traits-based behavioural, situational, functional and psychological perspectives. Each adds richness to defining leadership, yet with the key limitation that each views leadership through a single lens. Since no single model carries the whole field, an integrated definition and approach are required.

Their fresh definition of organisational leadership strives to be comprehensive and pragmatic: Leadership is a set of behaviours that, in a given context, align an organisation, foster execution and ensure organisational renewal. They are enabled by relevant skills and mindsets.

Here’s how they arrived at that definition and the implications it triggers:

  1. Leadership comes alive in the behaviours that are used, felt and observed across an organisation. They comprise McKinsey's unit of analysis and are what they measure objectively and seek to enhance during leadership development interventions.
  2. The behaviours are highly contextual depending on each organisation. So, it is essential to define leadership traits that prove most effective in helping an organisation achieve its performance goals. Take the chief executive of a U.S. energy utility. When the market was deregulated, the company was plunged into the most serious financial crisis of its history. The CEO helped transform the organisation into a competitive player in a liberalised global market and is convinced that leadership should be a function of economic reality: “You have to put things in the context of a business model. Who are your real customers? What kind of partner do you need to make it work? What do you really do? And where should that work be done?”
  3. Leaders must be able to create organisational alignment, execution and renewal. Without them, performance suffers long term. Any leadership model must seek to achieve these three factors.
  4. A leader’s ability to demonstrate effective leadership reflects relevant skills realised through real-life experience. For example, leadership prowess around “championing the desired change” could signify strong storytelling, written and oral communication, influencing skills, and the ability to anticipate and seize pivotal moments. Leadership development intervention must help leaders forge relevant on-the-job skills and behaviours. As management authority Henry Mintzberg maintains, “Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it.”
  5. Leaders must develop the right mindsets based on introspection and self-awareness. Often, underlying mindsets – including needs, fears and core beliefs – are what drive a leader’s behaviour in a situation. Only about one-third of the 2,500-plus executives in a McKinsey sample said that their organisations’ transformations explicitly assessed the mindsets that required a change to reach their goals. But those that did were four times more likely to succeed. Take, for example, a professional services business that wanted senior leaders to initiate more provocative and meaningful discussions with the firm’s senior clients. Once the trainers looked below the surface, they discovered that these leaders, though highly successful in their fields, were instinctively uncomfortable and lacking in confidence when conversations moved beyond their functional expertise. Only when the leaders realised this and went deeper to understand why were they able to commit themselves to concrete steps that helped push them to change.

Why does a definition of leadership matter? An incomplete definition will produce piecemeal leadership development programs with a misguided focus and poor impact. While organisations get plenty of leadership advice, they lack a way to cut through the noise. McKinsey's definition offers a starting point.

For a more detailed view of the different schools of leadership, or to read about McKinsey's leadership development approach in practice, read their recently released book, Leadership at Scale.

 

This article was originally written by Michiel Kruyt who is a Partner at McKinsey & Co, Gautam Kumra who is Managing Director of McKinsey India, and Ramesh Srinivasan who is a Senior Partner in the McKinsey & Co New York office, and full credit goes to the McKinsey, who published this article earlier this year. This article has been reprinted for the purpose of education.

If you enjoyed this article then why not sign up to our mailing list to gain access to high-quality content and exclusive offers.

 





Also in Portal's Daily Dose

How to thrive in the next normal of distributed work
How to thrive in the next normal of distributed work

September 18, 2020

Some companies are struggling to keep up with our new normal. Research from Asana reveals nearly half of employees surveyed globally said company-wide goals had been deprioritised since remote working began, with 47 per cent saying those goals have changed at least once during that time – and 60 per cent haven’t increased communication on such issues. 

Continue Reading

Why work management is key for remote team collaboration
Why work management is key for remote team collaboration

September 11, 2020

The global pandemic has left newly remote workers swimming in confusion and struggling to keep up. To shift from today’s state of surviving to a future where teams are thriving, we need tools that make coordinating and collaborating on work effortless. 

Continue Reading

What’s the ROI of a Work Management Platform? A global study
What’s the ROI of a Work Management Platform? A global study

September 09, 2020

Everyone from the CEO to the newest hire wants to be part of an effective team. But in unprecedented times, with an accelerated shift into the future of work, how can organizations achieve clarity on day-to-day tasks and achieve the company mission?

Continue Reading