The top managers and senior managers of an organisation play a critical role in ensuring organisational success. They set the vision and direction for the organisation, ensure that the appropriate resources are allocated and they set the tone for the effective execution of strategy. They are also key stakeholders when corporate governance functions are delegated by board members to executive management. For instance, senior leaders are main custodians of ethics in an organisation. However, in today’s complex business environment, senior leaders often come short of what is expected from them. They deal with complex issues and problems and need to have a clear focus on dealing with these challenges in a professional and action-orientated way.
The top ten leadership problems experienced by senior leaders are as follows:
- Senior leaders often develop a good vision and overall strategy for an organisation, but struggle to ensure that middle management and their teams execute the strategy effectively, partly because lowers levels of management are excluded from strategy sessions;
- Sometimes senior leaders tend to continue with strategies built on past successes, while a different strategy may be required;
- Leaders are often slow to respond to changes in the external environment, resulting in the organisation losing out on opportunities, or even increased risk exposure;
- Given the speed and complexity of change, senior leaders often fail to prioritise accordingly and are often overwhelmed by information overload;
- While some senior leaders are good at the strategic role of creating a vision for the organisation, they struggle to create the type of organisation culture needed for the effective implementation of a high-performance business strategy;
- Senior leaders have strong conceptual and strategic thinking skills, but often lack the people management skills needed to cascade these good ideas to the next level of management;
- Some senior leaders are not visible enough in the organisation, and may therefore also not be in touch with their people and the reality on the ground;
- Many top leaders feel that they have arrived when they reach the top and therefore often neglect their own development;
- While some leaders are always the first to pronounce the values of the organisation, they are not actively living these values themselves, and sometimes turn a blind eye when staff do the same. Leaders must lead by example, in particular regarding the values of the organisation and decisively address a violation of the values.
- Leaders are responsible for resolving problems in organisations. Ignoring problems or downplaying a particular problem is a sign of procrastination and often result in a problem getting bigger when it is not resolved, until it evolves into a risk and eventually a crisis.
Fortunately, though, good leaders have managed to turn the above problems around into opportunities, so much so that if you simply rephrase the above 10 senior leadership problems into positive affirmations, most good senior leaders are able to excel in turning these challenges around into key success factors driving organisational success. Now with the release of the South African leadership standard, senior leaders are expected to lead the application of the leadership standard to ensure organisational success.
The role of senior leaders in ensuring organisational success cannot be over-estimated. Honest reflection and clear action is needed when problems occur. But focusing continuously on the bigger picture while aligning and integrating the successes of different departments to ensuring overall organisational success, top leaders play a key role in creating and sustaining high performance organisations.
Marius Meyer is CEO of SABPP, author for Talent Talks and Vice-Chairperson of the Unisa Talent Advisory Board.