When times become tougher for businesses, either due to economic recession or other industry related challenges, senior leadership often fall into the trap of instituting radical knee jerk remedies but often neglect to create a place and time for others within the organisation to align with the need to change as well as to raise differing perspectives that could hold opportunity.
However frightening the financial results and projections may be, the cold truth is that the very people who know the answers to operating more efficiently, are those that are closer to the customers and products, and are the people lower down in the organisation.
This new world of work that we find ourselves in, has lead to a highly competitive landscape where quality, service, innovation and differentiation are key to enter the market, but not always remain there. The complexity of business today means that we need to have all the resources aligned, and leadership leveraged at all levels within the organisation.
In any organisation with numerous employees, there is a natural differentiation of roles and responsibilities. Those individuals at the lowest levels are more narrowly focussed and tend to be closer to the product and/or service offered by the company. As we move towards the top tier of leadership, we move further away from product detail but we have a broader view of the organisation, deal with longer term milestones and more abstract concepts.
The higher the level the leadership roles become, the more important the need to work to align key internal and external stakeholders and to constantly understand the changing competitive landscape in the future in order to lead the organisation to make subtle directional changes in the present. In order to become an agile or learning organisation, all the resources in the organisation needs to understand the greater vision and own the components of it that they can contribute towards. All the resources in the organisation need to be aligned with each other and be fully engaged and be able to execute their leadership influences both up and down within the organisation.
Untapped opportunities that lie within organisations can be leveraged by individuals and teams who can learn to enter dialogue to be able to raise dissenting and paradoxical views, the very perspectives that hold the key to innovation and competitive practices. Great disconnects in understanding often exist between levels in the organisation, lower levels may not agree with the level above or know certain information that higher levels may require. Lower levels often deem it unsafe to exercise influence higher up in the organisation and therefore hold back their contributions. From my experience working with numerous senior management teams, I am often surprised to find out just how little conversation is had between team members and differing levels within the organisation.
On numerous occasions I have witnessed highly experienced and highly skilled individuals become almost paralysed and the very thought of having to influence others in more senior roles in their organisations. I am left with the thought that great competitive advantage exists for organisations that can somehow create a place where people can simply talk to each other despite their position, perceived rank or any other reason that may block simple discussion.
Leaders often dismiss the skills of listening, dialogue and coaching as simply soft skills without realising the powerful impact they may have on the organisation. One of the reasons for this is that many of these so called soft skills can take a very long time to master and cannot simply be learned cognitively or by reading the text book. They need to be practiced and learned experientially and over a relatively long period with much trial and error. Leaders must be prepared to acknowledge their incompetence in this regard in order to start learning, a startling challenge for some, but confirming that humility is indeed a very powerful leadership trait.