Just What Is Effective Leadership?



Leadership is like the Buddah with many faces! Under certain circumstances, leadership can look very different and the responsibilities of leadership change depending upon the situation.  Some call this concept, “situational leadership” and in one sense is a good term.  What it doesn’t imply is the constancy of values and role modelling of those values.  Those are not situational, but inviolate and absolute.  Or at least they should be.  Not so easy a principle for the modern day CEO or senior executive to hold firm on.  It seems that in today’s world values and principles are, at best, negotiable. And today’s leaders do more talking than leading.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way!

But I’d like to spend a few minutes on one of the key “faces of leadership”: operational leadership.  Just what is the role of executive leadership in the area of running and leading a business, whether it be a start-up or a global corporation employing hundreds of thousands?

Rather than go down the route of the HR consultancies and talk about a long list of competencies (which only Superman or Thor could measure up to), I’d like to suggest the role of executive leadership in operational mode is very simple:

set a clear and winning strategy, then work to eliminate the internal roadblocks to effective execution and delivery of that strategy.

There is no perfect strategy and never will be, especially since the marketplace is constantly moving, with new technologies emerging and new competition springing up from all corners of the globe.

To be effective at strategy execution, an organisation must be highly agile, able to revise one or more strategic objectives as soon as the market moves in a different direction.  And in most companies, agility and the ability to change direction is severely hampered by internal policies, work practices and business processes that were set in place years ago.  These legacy processes worked well then, but may become significant roadblocks to effective execution as the pace of business accelerates or the need for a new business model suddenly emerges.

When the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.  ~ Jack Welch

Recently I gained significant insight into a large UK bank and their challenges to provide competitive service on par with the emerging FinTech competition.  It wasn’t that the managers and employees weren’t willing to move faster or provide additional services and value to their clients.  They couldn’t!

The internal policies, business processes and excessive bureaucracy was the bottleneck to improved and faster service levels.  And the slowness of these legacy processes and systems was frustrating experienced employees to such a degree that they were leaving the bank in droves.  Customer relationships and business knowledge walking out the door!

In such cases, the real role of leadership is to do whatever it takes to eliminate the roadblocks, streamline processes, invest in better and simpler systems, and stop the waste of excessive bureaucracy.

If they don’t get together as a team and make these changes, who will?

Forget the speeches on vision, mission and values.  Forget the “employee engagement workshops”, or the Executive lunches in the canteen.  Do your job.  Eliminate the internal roadblocks so that your staff can do their jobs.

That’s effective leadership.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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