8 Core Leadership Abilities

Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

Photo Credit: Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz identifies 8 abilities that the best leaders possess. Here is the list, along with a brief description and summary of each item on the list.

  1. Strategic Orientation: The capacity to engage in broad, complex analytical and conceptual thinking.” The new realities surrounding organizations demand that leaders have a capacity to engage in strategic thinking in the face of complexity.  Are you thinking about your organizational realities through a strategic lens?
  2. Market Insight: A strong understanding of the market and how it affects the business.” Along with increased complexity, the world is more connected to our organizations than ever before. Are you paying attention to the environment surrounding your organization and how this environment will shape the way your organization goes about its work?
  3. Results Orientation: A commitment to demonstrably improving key business metrics.” Increases in complexity and connectivity in our world translate into increased competition. This increased competition necessitates that leaders pay attention to performance for the things that matter to your community. Are you measuring what matters most to your organization?
  4. Customer Impact: A passion for serving the customer.” In-grown organizations will struggle to thrive in the changing economy. Who do you serve as an organization? Do you have a passion for providing the best possible service for these individuals and communities?
  5. Collaboration and Influence: An ability to work effectively with peers or partners, including those not in the line of command.” Leadership in today’s organizations is not simply about individuals getting individual work accomplished. Complex problems require complex solutions that are often worked out in collaboration. Do you possess a collaborative orientation?
  6. Organizational Development: A drive to improve the company by attracting and developing top talent.” Finding, recruiting, and retaining top talent is a substantial need in the coming years. Factors such as globalization and demographic shifts are making this need more pronounced. How are you leading your organization in a path of intentional leadership development?
  7. Team Leadership: Success in focusing, aligning, and building effective groups.” As noted above related to collaboration, it is no longer about individuals accomplishing individual outcomes. Organizations today require effective groups or teams working together to accomplish increasingly complex outcomes. Are you developing your capacity as a team player?
  8. Change Leadership: The capacity to transform and align an organization around a new goal.” Our changing world translates into dynamic and changing organizations. How are you developing your change leadership capacity? As a community this will be essential as you lean into these organizational and environment transitions?

As the world around us changes, a capacity to adapt to new environments is critical. As you consider these 8 Core Leadership Abilities, what are your strengths? What are your growth edges? Are you committed both to developing yourself and those around you to meet the demands of leadership today?

Chaos, Creativity, and Connectedness: Learning to Embrace the New Organizational Story

From Chaos to Order, Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr

Photo Credit: From Chaos to Order, Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr

I enjoyed reading Margaret Wheatley’s book Finding our Way: Leadership for Uncertain Time recently. Wheatley discusses at length the important shift from old stories to new.

The Old Organizational Story

The old organizational story that Wheatley emphasizes is a mechanistic story in which a desire for predictability and consistency is pursued. Wheatley notes, “We want a story of simple dimensions: People can be viewed as machines and controlled to perform with the same efficiency and predictability.” As efficient as this goal or desire seems, Wheatley notes that there is one major problem with it: “people never behave like machines,” and when we try to have them act like machines we “ignore the deep realities of human existence” and “take the complexity of human life and organize it away.”

The New Organizational Story

In contrast to this old story, Wheatley is calling for a new story that is a tale of life…one where the complexities of human life are embraced and welcomed rather than controlled and managed away. Wheatley notes that, “Life seeks organization, but it uses messes to get there. Organization is a process, not a structure.” When we, as leaders and managers, simply try to mechanistically structure organization, we often work against rather than with the larger patterns of organization at work in the world.

On this point, Wheatley notes, “Self-organizing systems have the capacity to create for themselves the aspects of organization that we thought leaders had to provide. Self-organizing systems create structures and pathways, networks of communication, values and meaning, behaviors and norms.” In such a model, Wheatley is arguing for the importance of both creativity and connectedness in the life of the organization.

Pursuing Creativity and Connectedness

Pursuing creativity and connectedness feels messy and can feel at odds with the need for stability and consistency. This is one of the largest challenges. As leaders and organizations, are we willing to let go of perceived order pursued through mechanistic means in order to find deeper and more authentic order through more organic means?

Organizations and Chaos Theory

Chaos seems to be a threatening concept for many organizational leaders, but Wheatley reminds us that sometimes the deepest order is found in the midst of self-organizing systems that seem quite unorganized. In Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, Wheatley points to realities in our world such as fractal and spiraling structures that manifest deep order from what seems chaotic at first glance. Although seemingly at odds with our desire to pursue organizational structure through mechanistic means, Wheatley challenges us to look for order where we typically see chaos.

Pursuing Meaningfulness—What Matters Most

One final point: I love Wheatley’s emphasis on creativity being found through meaning. “As soon as people become interested in an issue, their creativity is engaged. If we want people to be innovative, leaders must engage them in meaningful issues.” Rather than having to prod and production followers through extrinsic means in the mechanistic model, tapping into what is meaningful allows us to pursue creativity through intrinsic motivation of opportunities that are meaningful in a more organic model.

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How do you respond to Wheatley’s arguments? Looking to the new story and themes surrounding chaos, creativity, and connectedness can feel uncomfortable at first, but I encourage you to give it time and thought. Sometimes the most power insights come to us in unexpected ways.