Updated: Mar 9, 2018
Originally published July 27, 2016
This is the second part of a multi-part Blog on Executive Leadership.
“No one person can be a great leader, unless he/she learns how to be undaunted and driven to succeed in the midst of critics, followers, failure, and small & large wins.” – Ty Howard
Over the last decade, the sometimes dramatic changes in domestic and international environments have influenced the vision development of senior leaders. Of these concerns, challenges of manpower and organizational collaboration have consistently been in the top five concerns. Figure 1 illustrates the trends in those key areas.
Figure 1. The top five influential conditions in the last decade. 
Bench Strength. This remains a leading issue for a few different reasons. Part of the problem is in the supply and demand equation, that is, when there are fewer jobs or positions available (supply) than there are people working to acquire one of those positions (demand), people tend to be protective of their position and may limit the amount of time spent preparing or mentoring subordinates to move into the next higher level of management or leadership. (Hagemann et al., 2014). More recently, however, some sectors are indicating that there are not enough qualified people to fill positions—a growing concern as technology has become a part of virtually every career position.
Economic Conditions. For most of the last decade, corporate leaders, investors, and career professionals have had a cautious approach to budgeting and spending, including staff costs with increased corporate expenses associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This has also led to lower hiring rates and business downsizing, fostering a long-term unemployment problem as well as one of the highest levels of underemployment since WWII. These economic challenges present two problems for leadership to solve—keeping the organization on track in an uncertain economy, and keeping it focused and functional if/when the economy recovers.
Although there have been glimpses of positive economic movement from time-to-time, most executive leaders are focusing on keeping their organizations on track until long-term economic stability—and growth—are again realized. To executive leaders, as well as mid-level managers, this means focusing on getting employees through “the tough time” as a short-term strategy before shifting focus again to long-term strategy and vision.
Increased Collaboration. Collaboration is an essential skill that is more complex that simply putting people together and telling them to work as a team. Gratton and Erickson (2007) provided eight ways to build teams that collaborate. In order to accomplish this, the teams must have support from executive leaders who are willing to invest in the training and tools necessary to enable effective collaboration among employees. Once that support is provided, the keys to building collaborative teams include:
Invest in signature relationship practices. These practices must be memorable, difficult for others to copy, and tailored to the leader’s own business environment. In other words, they should be uniquely suited to the organization’s vision, goals, and employees—make it your organization’s signature.
Model collaborative behavior. Especially in large organizations, few employees have the opportunity to watch how senior leaders operate on a daily basis. A good way to assist employees in learning collaborative skills is to reflect those skills among senior leaders—and make those collaborative practices visible to employees as learning points.
Create a “gift culture.” This is another way to say “mentoring.” Both formal and informal mentoring helps increase collaboration and reduce a culture of “tit-for-tat” that may exist or keep that culture from creeping into your organization’s culture. Formal mentoring tends to have clear responsibilities, roles, and plans, and assigns mentors to mentees; informal mentoring is something that integrates into everyday activities and typically finds the mentee choosing a mentor.
Ensure employees have the necessary skills. Here we are not talking about skills necessary for their position in the organization per se; rather, the concept is ensuring that they have the necessary skills to work in a collaborative environment. Without training employees in collaborative skills, you end up with people who want to cooperate and achieve but do not know how to organize themselves for or take an active part in collaboration. These skills include mutual respect, purposeful two-way conversing, and learning how to manage conflict when disagreements occur…and they will.
Support a sense of community. This is where your HR department—or in smaller organizations, senior leaders—cultivates a sense of community among employees. This can be a simple as promoting group events and activities or creating policies that encourage them so that employees may engage themselves in arranging opportunities to promote community. Some ideas include activities around holiday periods, putting out goal areas that are not formally being worked on collaboratively in order to foster informal discussion…which may result also in ideas and innovation.
Assign leaders who are both task- and relationship-oriented. There are continued debates on the value of one type of leader over the other. On one hand, the relationship-oriented approach is often considered to be appropriate in large and complex teams, believing that it will promote knowledge sharing and an environment of trust. On the other hand, it is argued that task-orientation is more inclined to provide clear objectives, provide a common understanding of the task, and provide structured monitored and feedback. Imagine, though, if you could foster a team that has the ability to exhibit both sets of characteristics…
Build on pre-existing relationships. The previous points are enhanced by relying on complementary pre-existing relationships; that is, taking advantage of already existing cooperation has resulted in as much as a 40% increase in early team collaboration. This may also result in nodes of team members with positive relationships developing, which may enhance or accelerate task, project, or goal completion.
Understanding role clarity and task. A common assumption is that clearly defined tasks with vague roles within a team fosters sharing and contribution. Research (Gratton & Erickson, 2007) determined that the opposite is true. Collaboration was found to improve when team member roles were clearly defined and understood, leading to a more focused application of creativity and innovation by team members. When the approach is not set in concrete, team members are more likely to invest their time and energy toward productive collaboration.
Customer Requirements. If you have ever worked on long-term projects in the public sector, chances are pretty good that you have been faced with this variable. Changing customer requirements is one of the external influencing factors that is typically not in your control, although it is sometimes possible to shape customer/consumer “wants” through effective marketing campaigns. B2C has changed with the advent of increased C2B marketing. B2B has changed as companies move from a linear to an internal cyclical research, evaluation, and selection protocol for purchased and contracting.
It is important to lead your personnel through these kinds of changes—external changes that are out of your control. Lingqvist, Plotkin, and Stanley (2015) suggest three primary focus areas to help organizations deal with changing customer requirements:
Chart decision paths by customer segment, drilling down into customer expectation details at each stage of decision making.
Use customer trends and influencers as a guide to allocation of sales and marketing resources.
Examine organizational structure to enable or improve collaboration between marketing and sales with other parts of the organization.
Increased Innovation. Innovation and transformation are complementary sides of the same coin. This is because empowering employees is a foundation for organizational growth, while the freedom empowerment provides is a catalyst for innovation and reenergizing the workplace. According to Llopis (2014), there are five key practices that leaders can do with their teams to foster this initiative and innovation.
Trust yourself enough to trust others. The key to trust relationship includes transparency among team members and team members take the time to listen to each other with respect. This enables an environment where ideas may be freely brought forward and shared.
Collaborate and discover. Collaboration takes a step beyond just working together and listening; it requires a measure of faith that each team member will be respectful and be working toward the organization’s vision and not using collaboration to forward their own agenda or career. By breaking down the barriers to trust and collaboration, leaders may find new ideas for products, services, presentation, knowledge, process, and so forth.
Communicate to learn. Communication—moreover, two-way communication—is essential for teams to develop a working rhythm and environment of empowerment. This allows the team to work together as an innovative group, using the sharing of ideas and vision to learn from each other and develop new ways to more forward to achieving the organization’s vision.
Be a courageous change agent. This is a binary concept—a leader may become an agent for change or become extinct. It is as simple as that. The leader must take on a mantra similar to entrepreneurs, embracing and analyzing risk and focusing on opportunity value rather than risk as a boundary. As you lead in this manner, innovation becomes a new normal.
Course correct to perfect. What is the perfect plan? Typically, it is not the plan with which your process begins. Being aware of what is happening and using course corrections to lead the process to accomplish its goals successfully. To effectively do this, the leader needs to keep three important questions in mind when evaluating progress: What must I continue doing? What must I stop doing? What must I start doing [differently]?
The business world is dynamic…constantly changing. Sometimes change comes rapidly, but it generally happens slowly and without fanfare–or warning.
So again, ask yourself: What Influences YOU as a Leader?
Next week will be Part 3 of the series: Building the Trust Relationship
 Hagemann, B., Mattone, J., & Maketa, J. (2014). Trends in executive development: A benchmark report. Retrieved from http://us.talentlens.com/wp-content/uploads/2014-EXECUTIVE-SUMMARY-of-Trends-in-Executive-Development.pdf