Executives can no longer ignore the fact that business is a social institution and cannot exist outside the contextual environments in which it operates. Firm stakeholders continue to pressure business to make a more positive impact on social issues ranging from employee well being, to environmental sustainability, to community enhancement. These goals can only be accomplished by developing a new framework of leadership development- one that exposes future leaders to the needs, desires and objectives of the broader stakeholder community, and that specifically links firm strategic goals with those of the broader stakeholder community. The following concepts should help drive new strategies in leadership development.
Developing Self-Awareness and Mindfulness
Self-awareness is contingent upon being open to feedback from relevant stakeholders. Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee define mindfulness as “living in a state of full and conscious awareness of one’s whole self, other people, and the context in which we live and work.” I suggest having your high performers take a Myers Briggs assessment in conjunction with 360 feedback from peers, direct reports, and managers, and then reviewing both assessments together. Developing the emotional intelligence of your potential leaders and providing them the tools and resources to recognize and understand how a broader community of stakeholders perceives them will be important to their development as senior leaders.
Obtaining self-awareness and mindfulness also must come from personal moments of self-reflection. For me, self-awareness occurs on my drive into work, listening to classical music. It clears my mind and opens me to inspiration and appreciation that can be staring me in the face in the flow of the everyday. I find my best inspiration comes when I’m alone in a trout stream high in the Rockies with no distractions other than the sheer beauty and grace of my surroundings. I take such a trip at least once a year. Simply stated, we need to encourage and develop our leaders to find their own personal moments of inspiration and reflection.
Exposure to the Broad Stakeholder Community
Leadership development at the senior level should include exposure to key company stakeholders like subsidiary general managers, important vendors, and key customers. Get your leaders out and talking with customers, vendors and channel partners. Such exposure provides a deeper understanding of the whole organization and a better understanding of the unmet needs of customers. It is equally important, however, to develop awareness of stakeholder needs and priorities from a broader community level. Facilitate your leadership team’s involvement in community activities. Have them volunteer at local food banks, homeless shelters, or other charitable organizations. Encourage them to serve on the boards of not-for-profit organizations or NGO’s in the communities in which your company operates. There is no better way for executives to gain perspective on the broader contingent of community stakeholders than to get involved at the local level.
Critical Thinking at the Stakeholder Level
Leaders at all levels of the organization must begin to understand that firm performance is directly linked to the broader stakeholder communities in which they operate. Success of the firm will be dependent upon a leader’s ability to create a vision that links firm performance with the objectives of customers, channel partners, governmental entities and regulators, and the communities in which the firm operates. Executives must be able to provide the roadmap for employees, shareholders and board members to understand and execute this vision.
Achieving a Global Perspective
Organizations that have a global footprint need to ensure the leaders they develop gain global experience. To really understand the issues, opportunities, and threats to organizational effectiveness, it is imperative that mid-level and senior leaders get exposure to the culture, language, and political underpinnings of the countries in which they operate. Cross-cultural team membership or foreign postings will aid in this regard.
At Magnetrol International, Incorporated we assign our participants in the company’s Leadership Development Institute to cross-cultural teams tasked with addressing specific corporate strategic initiatives. As a global company, we understand the importance of gaining diverse perspectives in designing responses to our key strategic initiatives. Another example of our commitment to global perspective is the recent promotion of one of our high performing managers in our Belgium facility to the role of developing and implementing a global technical support and service organization. She has been specifically tasked with working with each of our global manufacturing sites to implement a coordinated service offering that meets corporate strategic goals while meeting local customer service needs.
Senior leaders need to prioritize the development of their leadership teams, and it’s time to emphasize leadership development from a stakeholder perspective.
John Heiser is the chief operations officer for Magnetrol International, Incorporated, and a doctoral student in the Ph.D./D.B.A. program in Values-Driven Leadership. Read an interview with John at this link.
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