How to Spot Whether Your Leaders Are Thinking Big Enough

Spot the differences in these three statements:

Leader A: “If we can keep our eyes focused on managing costs and delivering quality, the results will be there.”

Leader B: “How we balance customer perceptions, cost efficiencies and product development will be a challenge, but we can succeed if we plan carefully.”

Leader C: “We have to rethink almost everything we now take for granted.  We are introducing new goals, and putting in jeopardy the balance of the parts of our operation that are already quite complex.”

We know intuitively that problems become more complex the higher up an organization you go. We also know that our people need to be ready to handle increased levels of complexity when they move to higher-level roles.

So, why aren’t we paying more attention to developing how people think?

The statements above show increasingly-sophisticated levels of complexity in thinking. For example, if you are leading large-scale change in your organization, then thinking like Leaders A or B will not generate the innovative solutions you need for success.

There is still a huge investment being made in leadership competency development, creative thinking training and other similar initiatives. But generally these efforts miss a vital part of the jigsaw puzzle of human capability. Increasingly, there is recognition that in order to manage constant change and ambiguity in our environment we need to shift up gears in our thinking capabilities. Seeing the long-term picture, managing a complex network of stakeholder relationships, being able to integrate multiple perspectives on a problem to be solved: these are essential capabilities directly influenced by how we think.

Knowing that your senior team is thinking at the right level to match the complexity of the challenges your organization faces will give you confidence, as the CEO, that your chances of building and sustaining your business are very high whatever the other pressures on your business may be.

So, the next time you want to recruit or promote someone to your senior team put the question of conventional behavioural and emotional competencies aside until you can answer the question, ‘does this person have the right mental bandwidth for this role?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then, irrespective of all the other great things they can bring to the table, you’re setting them up to fail if you place them in a role which will over-stretch their cognitive capability. This therefore becomes the priority for their development and the ROI will be justifiable and measurable.




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