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Leadership and Strategy Execution

Strategy execution depends on many things. But one of the most important levers for strategy execution is the quality of leadership. Without a leadership team that is able to align objectives, coordinate across boundaries and adapt to changing situations a strategy is bound to fail. But to do all that, leaders must make sure that people are willing and able to go along. And that is often the tricky part.

Leaders are often selected for the wrong reasons. Sometimes they were the best experts. And sometimes they were the only ones available. And sometimes they were the ones who complied the most to the reigning culture.

Every leader inherits a leadership team that is composed of people who are unable, mediocre or up to standards. And this is the leadership team that has to pull or push through strategic initiatives.

And that is why leadership development is often part of strategic plans. Developing leadership is crucial for any strategy. But when the start of the leadership development initiative coincides with the start of the strategic plan, it’s actually too late.

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A Kind of Investment

It takes time to develop leadership. It’s a matter of unlearning bad habits, strengthening existing good habits, detecting future leaders, and needs analysis.

Sometimes organizations reduce leadership to training. But skills training is in most cases not the solution. Moreover, focusing on skills training might be counterproductive. Training leaders for skills that are not supported by the culture, the senior leadership or the systems in place is pointless.

And it’s a missed opportunity. Leadership development is always a matter of cultural change. The impact of leadership development on culture cannot be underestimated.

Therefore, the needs analysis is crucial.

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Questions to Ask

In the needs analysis questions are asked like:

    1. What leadership behaviors will support the strategy?
    2. What leadership habits hinder strategy execution?
    3. Where can the organization make the most progress in terms of leadership?
    4. What is the leadership quality of the senior leadership team? How do people perceive management support?
    5. What should be the biggest contribution of a leadership development approach?
    6. Which systems are in place that support or hinder leadership?
    7. What are critical leadership incidents?
    8. Who are the champions?
    9. Where are the so called red spots?

There are multiple sources of information to answer these questions. Often there is a lot of information in employee engagement and satisfaction surveys, performance reviews, 360° feedback, … But next to that it’s necessary to involve leaders in the needs analysis through interviews and focus groups. Finally, a Leadership Impact Analysis can provide a lot if input.

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A Lot of Work?

This could sound like a lot of work. And it is. But the leadership development starts already during the needs analysis. The debate creates awareness, interest, … It changes perspectives. It uncovers both productive and unproductive situations in the organization.

Often organizations want to skip the thorough needs analysis and jump to a rapid deployment of a leadership training. How difficult can it be? We just take an off-the-shelf training to cover the problem and that’s it.

This approach is not appropriate for several reasons:

  • Training has a limited effect on behavior change. Under specific conditions training will have an impact, but generic training does not comply to these conditions.
  • Generic training misses the opportunity to integrate culture-specific aspects.
  • This approach does not involve key people in the definition of needs, the design of solutions and the implementation of a more holistic approach.

The more a leadership approach is tailored to the situation of your organization, the more it will have impact. The more a leadership development approach has impact the more it will support strategy execution.

Underinvesting in needs analysis is usually a mistake.