Building Leadership Capacity - the situation

Creating and deploying a new organisational vision requires a set of effective leadership competencies - competencies that traditionally have been lacking in most organisations.  Leadership competencies are different than the competencies most often associated with management.

Management is all about making what people believe to be rational decisions, based on a given set of inputs and a desired output.  Leadership is all about strategy, purpose, objective, and developing and illuminating a path to follow.  Leadership is all about being able to constantly refine and maintain a level of objectivity throughout the entire enterprise.  

According to this definition, senior managers cannot manage change, they can only lead change in an organisation.  Based on this, a member of a senior management team would spend his or her time building consensus about what is important in the organisation; inspiring his or her employees to strive to attain personal mastery in whatever they do, focusing employees on key performance improvement areas, and helping illuminate the key areas for shifting organisational behaviours to be congruent with organisational values.

Building Leadership Capacity - the steps

To achieve a leadership oriented environment, it is crucial to do several things.  First, the senior team needs to be willing to shift their day-to-day management responsibilities to direct reports.  This implies that they both see the benefit of this shift, and that they want to create the environment in which all of the employees will be better able to realise their individual and collective potential. 

Second, the senior team needs to be willing to commit to learn how to be better leaders.  This means that they need to focus their learning on the key levers that will result in demonstrated behavioural leadership.  These levers include, understanding the dynamics of organisations, being able to recognise and diffuse organisational defense mechanisms, being personally effective in managing their own time, being able to recognise and effectively use their circle of influence, being able to create and articulate vision, and being able to understand and articulate the strategy of the enterprise.  

Third, the senior team needs to prioritise the sharing of leadership throughout the organisation.  This means focusing not on the question of 'what' but on being able to respond to the question of 'why.'

Fourth, it is crucial to institutionalise learning as a way to ensure that the organisation can have the ability to realise its potential.  Institutionalising leadership requires an environment in which managers can rise to the challenge.


In order to do this effectively, key decision-makers need to understand several things.  James Rieley has recognised, credible experience in helping managers do this.

First, it is crucial to understand the organisational dynamics at play.  These dynamics can be best described as explaining how work actually gets done in an organisation.  Too often, decision-makers believe that the written procedures and processes manuals define how work should be done, but rarely is this how work actually gets done.  It is this understanding that can help managers make better decisions about how best to drive organisational initiatives. 

figure 1

Next, key decision-makers need to understand where managers and employees spend their time.  It has been shown that many managers and employees spend an inordinate amount of time fighting low-value, old organisational fires.  When managers and employees are focused on low-value, old problems (organisational fires), they are unable to meet the challenges they will face today and in the future.  In figure 2, it is clear that the subject senior team, both individually (circles) and collectively (squares) are spending an inordinate amount of time on low-value, old issues and challenges and problems.  This is an indicator of an organisation that will struggle to sustainably achieve high-performance and realise its potential. 

figure 2

Key decision-makers also need to understand managerial perceptions about where an organisation is, and where it is going.  In order to have the greatest chance to achieve a future vision, it is crucial that managers and employees have a high level of alignment about the current status of the organisation, and where it will be in the future.  Without alignment, decision-makers will be forced to fight an ongoing battle with wasted efforts, wasted resources, and lack of commitment to organisational goals.   Figure 3 identifies a three clear gaps.  This client work output shows a lack of alignment around where a senior team sees the organisation it is responsible for leading - an indication of potential mis-aligned efforts.  The second graph shows an equally non-aligned view about where the organisation is heading.  This is a further indication of potential mis-aligned efforts.  The combined graphs show an indication that, due to the gaps in individual alignment on the current state of the organisation, and the non-aligned view of where it is going, the chances of the organisation realising its potential are extremely low.

figure 3

Managers of organisations are faced with a myriad of complex decisions on a day-to-day basis, and perhaps the most difficult decision to resolve is, 'what should I and my team focus on today?'  By being able to prioritise the decision-making process, based on what are the few, vital activities that will take us closer to our vision, the ambiguity of the decision-making process can be removed.  By focusing management's behavioural shift efforts on the four key leadership competencies, the decision-making process is improved.  The four leadership competencies are; Thinking - how managers sort out which decisions will generate more impact than others; Influencing - how managers work with others to help them see what activities will provide the greatest leverage for improvement; Achieving - how managers drive the achievement of goals and targets; and, Leading - how managers create an environment in which their employees can realise their potential.  The effective application of these four competencies helps to ensure a high level of mobility across detail - an increased ability to ensure organisational alignment and commitment.




Copyright James B. Rieley, 2004 - 2009