The final aspect of McKinsey’s New Roles for Leaders is to act as a catalyst. The article calls for leaders to “unleash energy throughout the system.” Not to be mistaken for a frenetic ‘Energy Bunny’ cajoling teams to do more, faster. Instead, McKinsey argues leaders should remove roadblocks, foster connections, help people relate to the organization’s vision and aspiration, and encourage an inclusive environment. In the language of Achieve Breakthrough much of this is accomplished by focusing on all three legs of the tripod of accomplishment: results, growth and fulfilment.
A traditional leader was usually the most technically proficient in the key skills necessary to deliver results. They ‘led from the front’ and teams learned by emulating the leader as closely as possible. Recruiting to create high performance teams basically came down to finding people that had the same ‘winning ways’. Most attention was focused on results whilst personal growth was delegated to HR or Learning and Development teams. Happiness was most likely not considered at all. The fundamental step in transforming from traditional leadership to breakthrough leadership is understanding that growth and fulfilment are not only part of the role, but critical to success.
The energy that leaders need to unleash comes not from themselves, but from within the team. They must unlock it by creating a high-possibility, inspirational environment where people can contribute to the full. As well as scan for setbacks and call them out early to keep momentum and energy behind their teams’ commitments. People will perform at their best and dedicate their energy and attention when they get personal fulfilment from doing so. This makes creating alignment between personal and organisational values and strategies imperative. It is a bold but important move for leaders to consider values alongside technical competency when recruiting. The temptation is to select those with the best track records for results and to over-look misalignment of values. But as every sports fan knows, a team of superstars does not always gel and often does not live up to its potential. Focusing instead on shared values and commitment to a common declared vision will spark empowered and motivated individuals that contribute energy to teams.
As catalyst and energiser, a successful leader must foster an environment in which individuals can honestly and transparently bring their ‘whole-self’ to work. We all hold-back some aspects of our selves but the more we feel supported and comfortable being our authentic selves, the higher the degree of value alignment and fulfilment we feel as part of a team. Diversity is crucial, of background, thinking and approach. Leaders not only need to assemble diverse teams, but to encourage individuals to take on diverse perspectives. Today’s challenges need multi-dimensional solutions. Thinking cannot be constrained by narrow lanes of experience or expertise. It is the leader’s role to encourage everyone to take on perspectives from outside their role and walk in the shoes of others. Instilling ‘systems thinking’ that views challenges as a whole and from different perspective, rather than through the narrow lens of a single function, creates opportunities for growth, deeper engagement and fulfilment as well as better solutions.
Leaders can build energy and keep momentum by constantly scanning for breakdowns in all three areas. Furthermore, this ensures they deliver quick-wins and hit key milestones, which too drives the team forward with more passion. Actively looking for opportunities to overcome obstacles, create solutions and review commitments creates avenues for growth and injects energy. They should not wait for results to tail off, but always be listening for clues that growth and fulfilment are waning. For example, teams can be highly energised striving to hit a common goal that is well aligned with their personal values; but having hit it that energy can quickly dissipate. Being asked to do the same again presents few options for growth. Leaders should look out for new challenges that allow individuals to build on success and develop new strengths to maintain energy. The rapid pace of change in most sectors and organisations makes these agile, constantly learning, teams highly valuable as well as fulfilling for their members.
McKinsey’s Visionary, Architect, Coach and Catalyst model offers an exciting template for leadership in the 21stCentury. It rightly challenges several stereotypes of leadership that are increasingly outdated and a poor fit for today’s agile business environment.
Breakthrough leaders see themselves as ‘servant leaders’ working tirelessly to create the right environments in which their teams can be successful. They need to be bold and brave, sacrificing their own psychological safety to create environments in which individuals can be honest and open. They still need to lead, by declaring possible futures and outlining bold visions, but they do not have to be the most skilled in every discipline and cannot hope to have all the answers. They must show singularity of purpose and commitment to the outcome but be willing to challenge assumptions and to call breakdowns in order to reset and refocus.
All of this takes energy. But, acting as a catalyst in the true sense of the word, leaders should release energy from the organisation as a product of their engagement, rather than try to inject energy to make things happen. As with any chemical reaction, you’ll know when it works as teams and individuals form strong bonds that deliver results, growth and happiness.
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