Enterprise leadership recognises that the new business realities are impossible for a single leader to navigate, no matter how smart or charismatic they are.
Consider any pressing challenge that senior leaders face today, and one thing is certain: it crosses vertical, horizontal, stakeholder, demographic, and geographic boundaries. Collective challenges, by definition, require collaborative solutions.
As leaders transition from a functional or business unit to leadership of the whole organisation, they have to make a developmental breakthrough: to think across the enterprise ecosystem, in more strategic and adaptive ways; and lead transformation collaboratively, by inspiring people to achieve a new vision of possibility.
New Business Context, New Learning Context
When designing experiences that prepare leaders for the transition into enterprise roles, context is crucial. The developmental context must produce a strong sense of distinction between current and future leadership work and sensitize leaders to the challenges encountered in enterprise roles.
We can create a learning context for enterprise leadership development by combining three design principles:
- Adaptive – tough challenges which mirror the work of leadership at enterprise level
- Collaborative – interpersonal communication which shifts relationship, understanding and impact
- Vertical – thinking from narrower to wider perspectives on transformation
Strategic projects are adaptive challenges if they require people to change their values, behaviours and ways of working. They are not adaptive challenges if the organisation and its leaders already possess the know-how to solve them.
Adaptive challenges are developmental because they are underpinned by human complexity. Adaptive leadership is less about what the leader does to solve a problem on behalf of the organization and more about how the leader works with people to help them face and tackle the reality of the problems.
When faced with an adaptive challenge, enterprise leaders don’t rely on their own authority or know-how to fix the problem. They pay attention to the complexity of human interactions and use dialogue, narrative and story to orchestrate rather than control.
When challenges are adaptive and affect the whole organisation, being able to talk to people with empathy, to create spaces of inclusion and understanding, and to engage and involve stakeholders across the Novartis ecosystem, becomes an anchor capability at enterprise level.
Collectively navigating a world that is unpredictable and constantly changing requires leaders to think at higher levels of cognitive complexity and sense-making. A leader’s developmental stage shapes their choices about leadership and change.
Using the case-in-point approach, leaders revisit a change story from their past, through a process of reflection and rethinking, in order to surface unhelpful assumptions, shift perspectives, and open new possibilities for leading organisational change.
Creating a Context for Enterprise Leadership Development
The context we create is a container for personal growth and organisational transformation. This container challenges future enterprise leaders towards a more complex way of seeing and acting by immersing them in a continuous experiment.
- Business strategy furnishes adaptive challenges that expand individual ability to diagnose, design, and mobilise the capacity of the organisation to transform itself. The adaptive challenges are strategically important, context-specific, and their solution has a profound impact on the enterprise as a whole.
- Adaptive challenges drive the development process. Participants are immersed in a safe-fail project development process which is bookended by several high impact events and supported by on-going coaching.
- Collaborative spaces bring peers together in cycles of action and reflection to generate and socialise personal and organisational insights using facilitated dialogue and sensemaking processes.
- Vertical development uses immersive and reflective discovery to generate a heightened awareness of leaders’ ‘edges of understanding’, particularly about change, with a view to generating more complex perspectives and strategies. A vertical assessment baselines the opportunity for growth in self-complexity.
- Transformative curriculum framed by several touchpoints, at the beginning, middle, and end, which fulfil three functions: (1) present important distinctions, like the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges; (2) introduce protocols for collaborative, inquiry-based learning and human-centred approaches to change; (3) provide as-needed access to expert project-related knowledge which informs solution design.
- Coaching serves a dual role: (1) creating a space in which leaders can make meaning of their experiences as they move back and forward between different contexts and experiences; (2) looking systemically at how structure, systems, culture and behaviour maintain the status quo, as well as the most effective points of leverage for transformative change.
Leadership development practices which develop an enterprise mindset enlarge leaders’ capacity to see the whole board, as in a chess match – to see the complex, often volatile interdependence among multiple systems and stakeholders. The experience of leading adaptive change, within a collaborative and transformative learning space, contributes directly to the growth of broader and more complex ways of thinking and acting.