UPFRONT Identifying smart leadership

What is it that sets smart organisations – those that are able to grow and retain market dominance – apart from former stars that have either stumbled or fallen?
A couple of American management specialists who’ve studied both reckon it’s because the former regularly track and improve in the “three pillar” areas of smart leadership, smart strategy and smart process. Writing in the Ivey Business Journal, management professor Sydney Finkelstein (author of Why Executives Fail and interviewed on page 35 of this issue) and Eric Jackson of Toronto-based Jackson Leadership Systems identified eight key attributes of smart leadership.
These were not to be found in one imperial individual but rather represented combination of individual skill sets, knowledge, attitudes and behaviour at both board and executive team levels. Some of them could be summed up as not getting too big for your boots.
One trait is “proactive paranoia” – belief that you’re only one slip away from losing market leadership, which comes down to having healthy respect for competitors. Second is “working for the shareholders” mentality – the directors and officers of smart organisations don’t exude even whiff of entitlement – they don’t splash out company resources or blur the lines between corporate and personal interest.
The third could be termed humility at the top – CEO who regularly consults team members, welcomes challenges and believes in constructive brainstorming. not-unrelated trait is “preventing groupthink” which comes down to surrounding yourself with those who agree and sidelining those that don’t.
Skill-set five is “projecting authentic leadership” ie, being more concerned with substance (clear as to their own values) than image (how they come across to others). Six is “facing reality” – being familiar with and owning both strengths and weaknesses in the market.
A desire to learn from mistakes rather than either reframe them as good ideas or sweep them rapidly under the carpet is also an important trait of smart leadership. Smart organisations, say the two researchers, don’t run from mistakes, they embrace them, understanding that “future competitive advantage lies in their accurately understanding why current venture, division or product has failed”.
And one more trait that was frequently found among the officers and directors of “smart companies” is personal accountability. These are people who take their roles and responsibilities very seriously.
The full text of the article can be found at www.iveybusinessjournal.com

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