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The Connecting Leader Series (7 of 10). This article is adapted from the book The Connecting Leader: In the Age of Hyper-transparency, Interconnectivity and Media anarchy, How Corporate Leaders Connect Business with Society. In this piece, Alberto explores authentic leadership in the Corporate Affairs function.
The New Normal has forced a high degree of collaboration between the executive/board and Corporate Affairs. Our research found a general trend toward greater involvement of the Corporate Affairs function in strategy and business planning, especially in the more highly regulated industries, where the bottom line impact of regulatory activity can be significant.
The increasing demand for connection with society means that the current Corporate Affairs function should be becoming more influential in the business. Those that have gained that influence had to learn to behave and operate like a business discipline and strategic function (rather than a specialist practice area) with implications for leadership and management skills, processes, systems and metrics.
However, selecting the right individual to step into the Connecting Leader role and ensuring that the organisation is developing the next generation of leaders is all the more challenging for one important reason: the nature and scope of the Connecting Leader is significantly different from other roles reporting to the CEO.
What combination of leadership and technical capabilities, experience and aptitudes defines the highest-performing Connecting Leader? It’s a question that CEOs will wrestle with and one that aspiring leaders will consider, too.
In the New Normal, as covered in previous posts authenticity matters more than ever, but what are the traits that we should find in authentic leaders? They are genuine and believe in what they do, showing a willingness to be open to what they don’t know and expressing their true feelings and emotions.
Authentic Leadership also manifests by acting ethically, ensuring that words and actions match, showing that one serves a purpose beyond oneself, being confident and showing conviction in what one does and how it’s done, and being able to articulate why the vision and direction are right for the organisation and those within it.
These leaders exhibit self-awareness by being sensitive to the impact on others and being able to demonstrate a real and deep understanding of the business they are leading.
One of the Connecting Leader’s biggest contributions is to ensure that culture, strategy and purpose align. Proper alignment is the best foundation for constructive engagement with stakeholders based on a clear understanding of the company’s purpose.
To achieve this, Connecting Leaders must be willing and able to spark and continuously nurture two often little-developed insights in leadership: a deeper and broader understanding of the role of business in society and a profound appreciation of—and respect for—stakeholder concerns. This alignment contributes to ensuring that the whole enterprise lives its purpose—and properly expresses it.
What are the key traits that “authentic” Connecting Leaders should possess? We found three key traits: the ability to collaborate and influence, a strong capability for building teams and a deep understanding of and ability to anticipate stakeholder issues that will likely affect the business.
Should this exceptional leader come from within the organisation or outside it? It depends on which stage the company is in.
If a company is performing well and is a stable and steady ship, it might work well to choose someone internal who understands the business, its inner workings and its culture. If, on the other hand, the company requires significant change and disruption in order to thrive, a different kind of leader is needed. In that case, an external hire is probably better.
These leaders also have the responsibility to develop more leaders in their teams who are able to work collaboratively across the business. With organisations that continue to evolve rapidly beyond vertically integrated enterprises to networks and ecosystems, there is a need for leaders to work together in new ways, such as collaboration across generations, geographies, functions and internal and external teams.
However, are companies ready for the new type of leadership needed today? Many organisations may not be prepared to accept a new generation of leaders or even to build an environment that allows them to emerge. Yet, there are signs of change as we are seeing a new breed of senior leaders that are younger, more global and more digitally savvy than their predecessors. They have a better grasp of the New Normal and are better aligned with business’s role in society today.
Michael Sneed from Johnson & Johnson offered very sound advice: “Success lies in acting as a business partner and being able to articulate how reputation can help drive results for any particular segment, market, or geography. If you can demonstrate to your peers how reputation contributes to the overall growth of their business and their key accountabilities, you will find a lot of them embracing your partnership.”
The Connecting Leader is available in paperback and kindle on Amazon.
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