Through our work with thousands of global executives, we’ve learned that even exemplary organisations watch leaders fail because they can’t find a way to tell them something is wrong. So, what’s happening?
To find out, we reviewed an international sample of leaders’ performance (annual reviews, 360°s, engagement scores, and operational results) and interviewed eight stakeholders each for their insights. The interviews revealed a significant disconnect. Many leaders with glowing reviews were seen as arrogant, distracted from key priorities and often insensitive. Some stakeholders told us they were leaving as a result of these negative relationships. When we debriefed our sampled leaders, they expressed surprise or shock – nobody had provided relevant feedback. e problem was even more significant for women leaders, which could exacerbate gender parity issues. Women were often seen as not having enough substantial strategic conversations to be considered for senior roles.
Self-awareness is the most significant predictor of leadership success, yet organisations vary widely in their ability to foster this critical skill. Our work has shown that peoples’ mindsets and faulty assumptions interfere with self-awareness. People need more than formal performance management systems. Employees require information and feedback from stakeholders to succeed, in a manner that is consistent and free from bias and hidden agendas. Frequently applied approaches, such as 360°s, 720°s, performance pulsing, and “crucial conversations” are only a partial solution. They typically drive short-term adjustments in behaviour to meet the metric, rather than engendering a culture of feedback and learning. Top leaders require “thought partners” to help them challenge their view of the enterprise and develop shifts in mindset to establish a supportive values-based feedback culture. As in a sports match, champion athletes watch the score and statistics – and they review video footage and use visualisation to challenge their mindset.
Trusted advisors and executive education bridge that gap, working confidentially with stakeholders to collect honest feedback, set clear developmental goals, and support the leaders’ growth. IT and artificial intelligence (AI) have a role as well, providing support for the new practices. When successful, the result proves to be a changed culture of people who live in a rich environment of learning, feedback, and encouragement.