Stepping on landmines During a four-year long project to shape culture in a multi-national company, a brilliant senior leader of an engineering division with decades of experience and numerous successes in technology and engineering developed a strategy to shift culture in her areas of responsibility. Despite her having access to a specialist culture consulting team, she decided that her approach was preferable.
In the dynamic panorama of contemporary leadership, the locus of power has quietly shifted. Today's influential leaders are no longer distinguished solely by their roles or by the assertive commands they issue from executive suites. Instead, they are individuals who deeply understand themselves, their teams, and the broader context in which they operate. In essence, to become a leader that you, yourself, would respect and follow requires a transformative journey rooted in self-awareness, self-advocacy, and self-leadership.
A Necessary Ending When my brother and I were growing up, our dad was an executive with a large energy corporation. He reminded us often;” If you want to get ahead in your career, develop your people skills.” So, I did and it proved to be true. I had been serving in progressive leadership roles throughout my career in public parks development for a major U.S. city. Interestingly, I was what some may call, a reluctant strong leader. Being a happy follower was fine with me but when placed in charge, I could get the job done. And that’s exactly what I did for many years. But as time marched on, the responsibilities became heavier and I just wanted relief from the increasing demands of organizational leadership.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look around and realize that we are experiencing a serious lack of leadership across our nation and in our organizations. In a recent survey of over 1,000 diverse industry leaders in the Houston area, they were asked to identify the greatest challenge they face regarding leadership development and retention. Mentoring and growing leaders and leading through conflict came in second. The greatest challenge reported was the need for effective communication. The truth is that to be a great leader; we must be a great communicator.
I have a confession. I really dislike the word vision. For me, it conjures up the image of a wizened gray-haired guru closing his eyes and espousing some words that sound important, but no one can really seem to grab practical meaning from. In graduate school, I nodded dutifully as professors touted the importance of having a clear vision. I underlined passages in books describing how to develop a vision statement and how it would transform an organization. I read prototypical mission and vision statements with a bit of cynicism, thinking they were largely fancy, contrived words put on paper and hung on a wall, because that was what you were supposed to do. These ornaments made it look like your organization had it together, but it seemed they didn’t really impact the people on the front lines, doing the work.
I am often called in to work with teams, or sets of individuals, in conflict when personalities seem to be clashing. Clients will often begin by informing me of the personality clashes, differences in “style,” and communication problems. Typically, one individual appears more reasonable or accommodating, or a better fit for the organization, while the other is seen as troublesome. However, once I am working with the people in conflict, my job is to put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and see if I can discover the true cause of the conflict.
It is painfully obvious that the pre-pandemic models of operating and managing no longer work as well with today’s workforce. Simply stated: work is not working for many people, as witnessed by the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting trends. Quite frankly, our leadership models are broken and filled with obsolete leadership practices – especially the concept that leaders need to be people managers. Managing people is a 1980s construct no longer valid or applicable.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been transforming our lives for quite some time. Recently, we are seeing the impact of AI even more in the workplace and C-suite leaders are no exception. AI is already being used in numerous aspects of the workplace. As AI continues to evolve, it is poised to have an even greater impact on C-suite leaders. With this understanding of AI advancements, it is crucial for executives and leaders to move toward appreciation of AI rather than resistance or fear. If you are not experiencing the impact of AI or at minimum hearing about it, you may want to ask what you are missing. Below are a few statistics that reflect the impact of AI in the workplace and in particular on C-suite leaders: