In many years of working with leaders, I’ve often observed that even the most senior people see their working world in fragments and not as an interconnected whole. They compartmentalise the different constituent elements of their roles – their team members, their peers, their bosses, and the imperative to deliver results – but they don’t bring all of these elements together. By failing to see the forest from the trees, they make it less likely they will succeed to their potential. So, what I often help them do is to break free of this siloed way of thinking and working, to help them become truly Connected Leaders.
Successful, connected leadership requires leaders to take off the blinkers and join the dots. It demands that leaders are properly connected to their organisation’s purpose, vision, and values. Connected to their people – in their team, their department, their whole organisation.But also connected to external stakeholders, too, from customers and clients to shareholders and regulators. Connected to innovation and results. And connected to external trends and dynamics.
When I work with leaders to help them become better connected, there are four principal domains in which we work. Each one of these is – quite naturally – connected to the others. Four domains that may, at first glance, appear to be independent, but in fact influence one another profoundly. Push here and something happens over there. They are the component parts of a unified whole.
The first relates to the leader’s internal world, and their connectedness to their organisation’s vision, purpose, values, culture, and behaviours. Gaining mastery and getting connected to the internal world enables leaders to understand the shared assumptions that guide their organisation; to explore the links between the component part of its “why”, and how to appreciate how they connect for the benefit of the organisation.
Then comes self-drive, addressing how leaders are connected to what motivates them, considerations as diverse as authenticity, ethics, awareness,and beliefs. Connecting here enables leaders to understand their place as leaders, how to align leadership style with values, and explore the links between leading themselves and the impact they have on others. Successfully connecting to what makes up self-drive is all about using tools to grow capability.
Next up is the external world, an environment which has never been more complex and often apparently contradictory, where unattended or unanticipated global forces and trends can knock a leader off their feet. Being connected to regulation and compliance and all the myriad forces at play in the external world enables leaders to bring balance to the quadruple bottom line of purpose, people, planet, and profit. It is the foundation of strategic thinking and strategic leadership, learning from others’ perspective and experience and identifying ways to anticipate and address risk.
And finally we have the domain of organisational drive, covering the dynamics inside the organisations leaders lead. This includes connectedness to performance, relationships, building teams, and innovation. By understanding what drives an organisation, leaders can identify both areas of strength and gaps for development. In so doing, they can pinpoint what needs to change to build the most connected organisation in terms of people, performance, and process.
The interconnectedness of these domains can be further understood by analogy. In the 1960s, our understanding of physical structures was advanced by the development of the concept of tensegrity.Tensegrity is a principle which shows that the strength of a structure is built up from a set of interconnected components. Although not necessarily strong in and of themselves, when connected in the right way – through bars and struts,cables and tendons – they create a rigid and stable structure. Structures with tensegrity – a contraction of “tensional integrity” – will flex and move when pressed in any one place, but will nonetheless retain their integrity because of their interconnectedness.
As with structures, so with organisations. Leaders who are connected to the inner world and the outer world, to the strategic and the implementational are leaders with tensegrity.This sets them apart as leaders who know what impact applying pressure here will have over there. Or, as I call them, Connected Leaders. And not only do they have tensegrity, they also have integrity. Integrity and authenticity,permission to be themselves and bring their true selves to work. The more you are you – the more you are the real you – the more others will follow.
The benefits of being a Connected Leader clearly apply in business and in commerce, but they go much wider than that. They’re relevant for leaders in whichever area of society they operate – public or private sector, business, education, government, healthcare, charity, and the voluntary sector. Every kind of organisation needs leaders and leadership; every kind of organisation benefits from having a truly Connected Leader to shape and direct strategy. And far, far more than that, Connected Leaders can change the world.
What do you need to become a more Connected Leader?
We live in the age of disruption,where apparently left-field, unexpected solutions to problems we thought we had licked can creep up on big, established market leaders, to become noisy, irritating challengers.
To the outmanoeuvred, to the sluggish establishment, the struggle is knowing how to be different and how to change. It’s as if the innovators rewrote the rules of their sector and didn’t tell anyone. It’s like their upstart competitors really did uncover the secrets of alchemy or worked out how to speed up evolution.
The facts on gender imbalance in leadership at work make for stark reading:
· Globally, women hold less than a quarter of all senior roles. This has crept up by 1% in the past year, and just 6% since 2004
· In small and medium enterprises, 21% are led by women
· Just seven FTSE 100 companies have a female CEO, and there’s just one in the top 50 – Emma Walmsley of GlaxoSmithKline
· In fact, there are more men called David (9) who are FTSE 100 CEOs than women
· In Ireland, just 14% of CEOs and COOs are women