With employment reaching near capacity levels, the war for talent has not been fought this hard in a generation. For leaders to succeed today and into the future they will need to take concrete steps that change the culture of doing business.
This is a lot easier said than done because so many in the C-Suite have been raised by a corporate culture that emphasized silo-building rather than cooperation. That, as well as other aspects of leadership, continues to change amidst an increasingly more intense disruption with the way managers lead their companies.
“Today’s leadership needs to look inward as much as they are looking outward,” explains Hugh Shields, principal and co-founder of career transition services company Shields Meneley Partners, which caters to the C-Suite. “While the employee cohort continues to morph into a more collaborative group, leaders at the top need to practice what the preach by working together more than ever.”
This is something Deloitte refers to as the “Symphonic C-Suite,” where the leaders of each group work together to exchange ideas, work smarter by working together and thereby increase productivity. Deloitte found that 85 percent of respondents to their 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey considered C-Suite collaboration to be important and yet 73 percent of participants in the study said their leaders rarely work together. This could be good news because it shows there is opportunity for significant improvement in C-Suites coming together.
Traditional leadership has consisted of the chief executive officer at the top delegating responsibilities to his or her divisional officers to execute strategy. Each CxO would then focus squarely on his or her area without caring about what colleagues were doing in their silos. The idea behind the Symphonic C-Suite is that all of the chief officers are “playing in harmony—instead of a cacophony of experts who sound great alone, but not together.”
The C-Suite needs to change today more than ever because the marketplace has changed so dramatically. The economy is global today, technology is creating so many more efficiencies for people while at the same time disrupting entire sectors and thus increasing the need for agility. In short, problems that existed today are far more complex and fast-moving than they were just a few years ago.
Saying the C-Suite and employees need to cooperate is one thing, but getting everyone to do so presents another challenge. True leadership creates a sense of trust and cooperation, both from within the C-Suite and outside of it, by creating a safe environment, explains Simon Sinek in a TED Talk from a few years ago.
“When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible results, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen,” he says. “When the people feel safe and protected by the leadership in the organization, the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate.”
Sinek points to companies where leaders did not fire people during The Great Recession and creatively found ways to maintain employment levels. That includes C-Suites taking the largest pay cuts, participating in unpaid work furloughs and as Sinek says, believing in heart counts rather than headcounts.
“Today’s leadership has to take concrete steps to show they care about their employees,” explains Shields. “While it is important to show cause-related initiatives and to embrace flexible schedules, the C-Suite today will engender a sense of trust and respect by actively leading by example. Employees closely view their senior leaders’ collective behaviors far more than their words.”