To move the enterprise into the future, organizations need leaders who have the skills and abilities to generate genuine improved results for the organization. These leaders are not afraid of change, embrace new ways of doing things, and are generally speaking, growth oriented.
The Wall Street Journal, 7 July 2008, identifies the effective leadership traits of those who “demonstrate a virtuous cycle of beliefs and behaviors.” Here is my cut at them:
- Outlook on change—it starts with their outlook on life; effective leaders see “life as a journey of learning, [and] therefore embrace uncertainty, seek new experiences, [and] broaden [their] repertoire. This is in contrast to managers who follow the “vicious cycle” with an outlook that “life is a test,… [they] fear uncertainty, avoid new experiences, [and] narrow [their] repertoire. Leaders rich in experience often either come up the ranks, having been trained and worked in various diverse jobs internally or having worked in a multitude of external organizations in similar or different industries, but in either case, these leaders have been tested time again and have a developed a history of success in the face of constant or frequent change.
- Customer view—effective leaders “understand customers as people” (versus seeing them only as data points), and they are thus, better able to detect new growth opportunities. This reminds me of the user-centric approach in enterprise architecture that I espouse. If we focus on the end-user/customer, and take an thoughtful approach to genuinely satisfying their needs, rather than just trying to make a sale, then we will always be working to do things better, faster, and cheaper. This is a long-term growth approach, rather than a short-term market share or stock price watcher view.
- Action-orientation—virtuous leaders manage risk through action instead of through analysis paralysis, and they place “small bets quickly” rather than big bets slowly. One manager at a confectionary company put it this way, “get the products into the marketplace, and then start to understand what works and doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, either take another shot at it or cut your losses.” That’s the price of learning. While this approach seems a little too loosey goosey; I do see the value of cutting off the analysis phase at a reasonable point, making a decision, and then following through with corrective action as needed.
- Agility—great leaders are agile and believe that “abilities are malleable” and with change can come growth, as opposed to believing that “abilities are immutable” and leaders being fixed in their way of doing things. There is a need for entrepreneurial leaders who while not risk seekers, are able to take calculated risks. They change as often as necessary to remain agile, growing their own and their organization’s capabilities in meeting customers’ needs, but they do not change for changes sake alone.
What interesting is that each and every trait identified here for effective leadership centers around change—embracing it, acting on it, managing it, and remaining nimble in the face of ever changing circumstance. This is highly consistent with the enterprise architecture view of identifying the baseline, target, and transition plan and moving the enterprise ever forward in the face of constant change.