Organizational Leadership

As a leader develops, the scope of their work inevitably grows. From a work team to a department, from a department to a division, from a division to the whole organization. Accordingly, there are skills and abilities that a developing leader must work on to effectively navigate those transitions. These are also areas where effective leaders often return for additional self-development.

Three key components of a successful organizational leader are:

  • Continually changing the status quo
  • Collaboratively developing a vision
  • Celebrating successes

Following a session on organizational leadership, you can help participants by encouraging them to revisit the themes of vision, change, and success over the next several weeks and months. Change is such a constant, yet its characteristics and speed may vary, so reinforcing the workshop discussion around issues of change may result in new insights every time. Similarly, the process and product of developing a vision may fluctuate with shifting conditions, so regularly going back to the concepts
and discussion will be helpful. In each case, image-based activities outlined in the Participant Guide are designed to work through these issues and help the leader further develop their approaches.

Take a look at the Organizational Leadership Sample Agenda.

Continually Changing the Status Quo

Organizations and teams operate in cycles, from initial formation to growth to stagnation and, finally, death. The way to avoid the final two stages is to continually revisit and change on the status quo. Just as continual improvement is essential for personal development, it is also crucial for the development of teams and organizations. Change brings challenge, and that challenge can keep both leaders and teams invested and engaged in their work together.

Where do developing leaders begin? By identifying the “carry-overs.” These are the tools and processes that have been around the longest. If, when a participant asks why something happens, the answer is “that’s how we’ve always done it,” s/he’s found a carry-over. These carry-overs are often ripe for changing the status quo because the assumptions that underpinned the processes initially may no longer be true. As a result, efficiencies and improvements are nearly always possible.

Another way many effective leaders identify areas for change is through differential visioning. This is a process where, using the images, you can guide participants through developing an idealized future state, then a snapshot of the current state. By focusing on the differences between the two pictures, the developing leader can identify the pieces of the status quo to change. As leaders become more seasoned and proficient, their ability to spot these differences grows until it is nearly intuitive.

Collaboratively Developing a Vision

Previously, we discussed the need for a team leader to effectively enlist others in a vision. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, however, it is far more effective to enlist others in developing the vision. By engaging team members and stakeholders in the creation of the vision, the product will be richer—it is informed by many more peoples’ experiences—and those who participate will feel more invested in the outcome.

The process of opening up the vision so widely may be uncomfortable for some. One way you can help participants through that discomfort is by modeling the collaborative process in the session, using the images as touchstones. A similar process (albeit with a tool that is focused on visioning, like the VisualsSpeak Image Set) can be applied to strategic visioning. As you guide participants through a sample exercise, be sure to help them verbalize how they are engaged. How did it feel? What did they get out of the result?

Celebrating Successes

As leaders are responsible for more work, teams grow, and day-to-day duties overwhelm, it can be difficult to set aside time for celebration. When work gets done, it just becomes part of the job. Th is approach will lead to performance erosion over time, and can ultimately lead to the breakdown of the team. These consequences come not only because people feel unappreciated (although that is a key component), but also because core values are not being positively reinforced.

Teams are often looking for ways to boost innovation. Yet many do not reward innovative efforts. Consider a team member who took a risk, tried something bold, and it just didn’t work. If risk-taking and innovation is important, then an effective leader will celebrate the risk—publicly. The team member is more likely to dive back in and try again, and other team members will see the affirmation and want to do the same.

Before developing leaders can maximize the effectiveness of recognition efforts, however, they must start more fundamentally: what are the core values? What is worth recognizing? Is it frugality? Innovation? Risk-taking? Determination? There are an infinite number of options; a developing leader must take some time, with guidance, to narrow the list to a core set that can be easily communicated and celebrated.

Developing Great Leaders is also available in a printed version.