• Ranga Iyengar & Vidya Yedavalli

Leadership Conversations: Tone at the top – sharing leadership responsibility


Introduction

‘Tone at the top’ is a phrase often associated with the audit and corporate governance profession. As advisors & auditors, we often get the opportunity to be part of executive level reviews. However, this note only uses this ‘symbolically’ to set the context for this conversation. Tenured leaders are looked up as almost idealistic role models by various stakeholder groups such as employees, investors, customers, partners, suppliers and society. New leaders especially those hired from outside often need some time to blend in and ‘culturally adapt, adopt and bring in change’. This article looks at opportunities for leaders to share their leadership responsibilities and the benefits.

Organization structures today – community clusters

Modern organization structures operate more like empowered communities – this often requires constant engagement, communication and activities – obviously it is not possible for a single leader to do this – this presents a great opportunity to share leadership responsibility. It is best to design such engagements as initiatives where the broad framework is set by the board and owned by functional heads – good examples of such initiatives that can be done every year are Employee Engagement, Corporate Governance, Customer Success programs, Social / Corporate Responsibility programs, Talent building programs etc. Leaders can be mixed and matched in such programs to give them a broader leadership horizon.

Committees and Forums – formal / informal leadership dialogue

Committees and Forums represent another great way to develop and nurture leaders and managers by giving them specific action areas where implementation and results are paramount. While standard board committees may be the norm, business units and functions can also form their own forums and action groups to own, define and drive such themes – good examples are culture building themes, diversity themes, talent skill building, workforce restructuring, benchmark assessments, award programs etc. These are a great way for leaders to mentor managers as well.

Cross functional teams & empowered groups – leading change & innovation

In today’s fast paced world, organizations often come into situations, opportunities, mergers, acquisitions or crisis scenarios which require teams or empowered groups to be put together to drive special initiatives which is a great opportunity to build, demonstrate and sharpen leadership skills. Often these opportunities test the true skills of a leader such as calibre, capability, resourcefulness, and tenacity to risk above and deliver.

Engagement with society and community – leadership relevance

It is a given today for organizations to be relevant to their surroundings, environment, society and community – volunteering and CSR are excellent opportunity for leaders and wannabe leaders to go beyond the normal call of duty and create a sphere of relevance and influence for themselves and their teams.

Conversations with stakeholders – informal listening posts

There is no better example for leaders than to spend some time everyday to engage with a chosen stakeholder group and engage in an informal yet meaningful dialogue and perhaps just be a listening post – this is an excellent opportunity to leaders to sharpen their leadership skills and styles and enhance their visibility, presence and influence.

Tone at the top – setting the leadership context

So, while boards can set the leadership context for an organization, a lot of leadership engagement, responsibility and accountability falls in the lap of the CXOs and other leaders / managers to take the essence of those messages and engage with stakeholders to achieve desired outcomes and results. Naturally, only when appropriate feedback goes back to the board can they understand if the context they set was relevant and appropriate for the organizations.

The final word – sharing leadership responsibly

Leaders grow only through engaging other minds and get a better perspective – while this might hurt their ‘leadership ego’ it is the only way to get a broader buy in and commitment and this comes through creating platforms to sharing leadership as this is the only way to grow oneself & evolve as a leader and also pave the way for others to grow and take on more responsibility. Sharing responsibility is also a wonderful way to develop possible successors. Last but not the least, sharing leadership responsibility brings in a collective sense of ownership which includes praise and also accepting collective responsibility for failures and debacles.

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