How to Become a Better Leader

26 Mar 2012 Sandeep Mehta

The McKinsey Quarterly article How centered leaders achieve extraordinary results has five pointers to become more effective leaders:

  1. Meaning: Find and communicate what the work actually means.  When building momentum around long-term R&D strategies, stories on how the product will impact the customer is extremely important. Using effective stories can generate team ownership in the vision (Steve Jobs provides a great example of how).

    …leaders often talk about how their purpose appeals to something greater than themselves and the importance of conveying their passion to others. Time and again, we heard that sharing meaning to inspire colleagues requires leaders to become great storytellers, touching hearts as well as minds.

  2. Connecting: Innovation requires connection between multiple technologies. Creativity requires connections between multiple concepts.  And delivering innovative products to market requires teams of creative people to come together.  An innovative leader should build/leverage connections and encourage networks to form within the organization.

    CEOs have always needed to select exemplary leadership teams. Increasingly, they must also be adept at building relationships with people scattered across the ecosystem in which they do business and at bringing together the right people to offer meaningful input and support in solving problems.

  3. Positive Framing: By reframing problems, leaders can convert fear or stress into opportunity, and engender creativity.  Leaders are also are aware of their impact on their teams.

    Psychologists have shown that some people tend to frame the world optimistically, others pessimistically. Optimists often have an edge: in our survey, three-quarters of the respondents who were particularly good at positive framing thought they had the right skills to lead change, while only 15 percent of those who weren’t thought so.

  4. Engaging: Leaders listen and engage their teams. They encourage balanced risk taking, act rationally in the face of risk and encourage experimentation.

    But for many leaders, encouraging others to take risks is extremely difficult. The responsibility CEOs feel for the performance of the entire organization can make the very notion of supporting risk taking extremely uncomfortable. What’s more, to acknowledge the existence of risk, CEOs must admit they don’t, in fact, have all the answers—an unusual mind-set for many leaders whose ascent has been built on a virtuous cycle of success and self-confidence.

  5. Sustaining energy: Changing / improving organizations and culture is hard.  Leaders need to be able to create a sense of urgency and maintain it for the duration necessary to implement the change.

    All too often, though, a change effort starts with a big bang of vision statements and detailed initiatives, only to see energy peter out. The opposite, when work escalates maniacally through a culture of “relentless enthusiasm,” is equally problematic. Either way, leaders will find it hard to sustain energy and commitment within the organization unless they systemically restore their own energy (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual), as well as create the conditions and serve as role models for others to do the same. Our research suggests sustaining and restoring energy is something leaders often skimp on.

The article has some benchmark data on what could happen if we master these skills:

A recent McKinsey global survey of executives shows that leaders who have mastered even one of these skills are twice as likely as those who have mastered none to feel that they can lead through change; masters of all five are more than four times as likely. Strikingly, leaders who have mastered all five capabilities are also more than 20 times as likely to say they are satisfied with their performance as leaders and their lives in general (for more on the research, see “The value of centered leadership: McKinsey Global Survey results”).”

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