Catalyzing Next Level Leadership to Drive Change

user Mina Muraki
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This article by Mina Muraki was originally published in Consulting Magazine.

Change is the new norm in business these days, requiring CEOs and their executive teams to pivot and move more quickly than ever. While some companies are blessed with high-performing C-teams that can swiftly define a strategy to address the shifting market and environment, the best companies recognize that unless they are also able to mobilize their next level leaders, there are significant risks to their strategies and even more important, to the execution of those strategies.

I’ve had the honor of working with the senior executive teams from companies of all sizes across many different industries – from retail to biotech to technology. And while I have seen varying levels of success, those companies who manage to engage and inspire their next level leaders share several common traits. To ensure that you leverage your next level leaders to become passionate drivers of change in your organization, consider these best practices:

Bring your next level leaders into the fold: While your most senior leaders may develop your strategy and vision, provide your next level leaders with the opportunity and shared experience of fleshing out that strategy…testing it…internalizing it. They’ve got to feel like it’s their strategy, not just the CEO’s. You have to ensure they feel connected to it emotionally so that they can live and breathe it every day. When they have that kind of a connection to the strategy and vision, they’ll have the guardrails and drive to bring it all to life through execution.

Help them embrace the accountability mindset: Your leaders are human – which means that change may trigger fear and unconscious beliefs that undermine your ultimate goals: “This is too hard.” “We don’t have the right resources.” “It’s going to take too long.” “There’s no way we’re going to get this done.” “Leadership doesn’t understand why our team is different.” Whatever the story is, we’ve got to help these next level leaders understand the power of a mindset shift. Mindset is a choice. And when your teams recognize that replacing these limiting beliefs with new, empowering beliefs – “I can drive the change.” “I set the course.” “I always have the ability to impact the system.” – possibilities open up. In my experience, this is the single biggest driver of behavior change.

Spell out your expectations and then model, model, model: Change often requires a shift in behavior, and in many cases, even in culture. Don’t leave your leaders guessing. Be explicit about the expected behaviors. Is innovation critical at this point in time? Is cross-functional collaboration paramount for smooth execution? Are agility and timely decision-making muscles that need to be rebuilt? Tell them…but it’s not enough to just tell them – your most senior leaders need to be modeling these behaviors because the entire organization takes cues from their every move. Even one misstep can cause a serious setback. So live into and demonstrate the expected behavior…unceasingly.

Wash, rinse, repeat: This is not a one-time job. You need to be in a cadence of bringing this team of next level leaders together to embed, reinforce, and sustain the change you are trying to make. Invite them to “Top 100” (leader) Summits, organize functional team meetings, and make sure they are included in regular communication from the top. These are all important ways to create momentum within the team as well as generate opportunities for monitoring progress, both for successes and improvement areas. What’s more, if you’re able to bring the entire next level leader cohort together regularly, there’s an additional major benefit – they develop a sense of community that supports each other, is committed to each other, and learns from each other.

Going down this path is no easy task. It takes an executive team that is deeply committed to training, development, succession planning, and upskilling their next-level leaders, but the payoffs are great. Companies who make this type of investment in these leaders, create teams of people that are fired up, on board, inspired, and committed to be the change agents required to lead business and organizational transformation.

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