An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Embracing this adage, chief executives who aspire to go both fast and far are launching “one company” strategies that prompt everyone to think and act in the best interest of the overall organization rather than in the narrow interests of their own business unit.
These CEOs seek to break down silos and channel their business units’ collective capabilities to bring complex solutions to market and beat increasingly sophisticated competitors. Ultimately, these strategies will require employees to work and collaborate in new and unfamiliar ways.
While many factors contribute to the success (or failure) of these initiatives, one common thread differentiates the organizations that are successful: their leaders have shifted their mindsets, activities and behaviors from individual results to organizational results. We call these leaders “enterprise leaders,” and ironically, those that take this approach not only achieve better organizational results, they also achieve better success for themselves. Specifically, enterprise leaders can grow revenue by up to eight percent faster per year than leaders that focus solely on achieving narrow individual objectives.
We have analyzed thousands of leaders and have identified the three characteristics that differentiate enterprise leaders:
1. They take from – and give to – their peers: Most leaders have reached their level of success in the organization by hitting goals through their own personal effort. Enterprise leaders take a different approach. Rather than accomplishing goals through their own direct effort, they shamelessly take successful ideas and approaches that other leaders have used and apply them in their own part of the business. They are also generous at giving their ideas (and best employees) to other parts of the organization to drive company results.
2. They push—and pull—team contributions: Leaders have been advised for years that, to be effective, they should push work down to the lowest levels in the organization. This is still true, but enterprise leaders also actively find innovations that are occurring deeper in the organization and pull those ideas back up to spread them across the organization.
3. They facilitate—rather than direct— team performance: It is a dirty little secret, but the reality for most leaders today is that they have very little insight into the day-to-day work of their employees. Unlike in the past, most leaders today would struggle if they had to do the job of their employees. This is not because leaders are bad or incapable, it is that with technology, remote work, and other changes, the way work gets done is different now than when those leaders were doing their employees’ jobs. Enterprise leaders embrace this reality by shifting from telling employees what to do and how to do to it, to connecting employees with other initiatives and support across the organization. They make it easier for their employees to do their job rather than directing them on how to do the job.
Given these differences and the direct financial boost of finding and growing more Enterprise Leaders in the organization, many CEOs have found that their old ways of identifying and training leaders need to shift. Rather than just measuring leaders on traditional leadership competencies, like strategic vision and communication, they now need to directly measure and cultivate leaders’ ability to build, activate and leverage networks.
And many are pleased with the results. As one CEO said, “No matter the number of star leaders you have, in the end, being successful as an enterprise is more about the constellations across the business than the brightness of each individual star. Our success depends on moving as a collective.”
Talent Matters is a monthly column from CEB, a Rosslyn-based corporate research and advisory firm. Jean Martin is CEB’s talent solutions architect. Brian Kropp is an executive director CEB’s human resources practice.