Enterprising Leadership for a Changing World
By Graham Poston, Regional Leader of Korn Ferry’s CEO & Board Practice;Steve Stine, Regional Leader for Korn Ferry’s Corporate Purpose & Sustainability Practice
  • As they guide their companies through COVID-19, leaders are expected to maintain performance and transform the business simultaneously.

  • With corporate purpose no longer on the side lines, leadership requires a shift in mindset to respond to the needs of people, the community, and the planet.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unequivocally elevated the need for organisations across the sectors to both perform and transform. Nevertheless, for many companies the ability to take the leap to a “perform and transform” culture is prevented by traditional ways of conducting business. This involves intense pressure to deliver on shortterm performance. At the same time, while organisations realise they need to evolve, the actual transformation is a longer term process. How to balance this equation remains one of the most essential questions confronting companies seeking to implement best in class leadership.

To explore the dilemma, Korn Ferry's global team, which comprises members of the Global CEO Succession team and the Korn Ferry Institute, identified the key attributes leaders need to become enterprise leaders with the capabilities to help their organisations both perform and transform. 

As the name suggests, enterprise leadership is about acting in the best interests of the enterprise. But what does this concept look like in practice? Key distinctions of enterprise leaders include finding creative ways to achieve seemingly competing priorities. For instance, multiplying their impact by leading beyond their areas of direct responsibility, to benefit the entire company and the wider ecosystem it operates in. This requires pivoting and flexing figurative muscles across four key “perform and transform” competencies or platforms – visualise, realise, mobilise, and catalyse.

The Korn Ferry perform-transform diagram

On the performance platform, enterprise leaders optimise existing business models, ensure commitment, develop talent at scale, and build mastery. On the transform platform, they anticipate trends, build flexible and agile organisations, generate new talent and capabilities, and harness ecosystems to amplify impact. However, few leaders are equally strong across all muscle groups. Korn Ferry research suggests that less than 14% of leaders can truly be considered enterprise leaders.

With this in mind, companies need to ask themselves the following questions – Do we have leaders with the capabilities to both perform and transform? What would it take for us to create the capacity and agility to do both? Meanwhile, from an individual perspective, leaders can review their own leadership contribution and impact, for instance by asking – What are my strongest perform and transform muscles? Which muscles could be developed to advance and accelerate impact? Do I have people on my team to complement me? How am I using their capabilities?

It is important to note that enterprise leadership is not a role. Anyone can choose to step up and adopt the distinctions of enterprise leadership. In this way, the key distinctions can be relevant for leaders across any type of organisations.

Creating alignment

After a century where growth and profitability took centre stage in the corporate life, the stakes have changed. The world is experiencing new and unexpected challenges. From the health and economic devastation wrought by COVID-19, to the longer term but potentially more far-reaching consequences of climate change, the world is in search of champions. The modern corporation is well equipped to respond, should it choose to do so, but only by building leadership teams that can perform and transform.

The first step in becoming an enterprise leader is to recognise the need and to understand what it looks like in practice. Then, like any new skill it involves trying it out in practice, reflecting on what happened then attempting again until it becomes a new habit. To underpin capacity for any leader to flex their muscles across their perform-transform polarities and to grow into and in enterprise leader roles, Korn Ferry have identified five agile mindsets. 

Awareness of self and impact: Awareness of strengths and development areas and impact on others has long been a foundation of learning agility. Enterprise leadership is the start line for the next leg of a never ending learning journey. This encompasses the ability to focus beyond self-awareness into the leader’s capacity to translate insights into new habits. A willingness to explore, challenge, and reframe mindsets is key to this.

Inclusion that multiplies: Enterprise leaders believe they can multiply their impact by connecting with and including others. As a result, they proactively seek out and build trust with people who see the world differently from them and create the conditions for them to contribute their unique gifts and strengths.

Integrative thinking: Enterprise leaders believe situations and people need to be interpreted in their dynamic relationship with one another. Thus they are able to connect the dots in new ambiguous and complex situations, to find innovative solutions to different priorities that are more than the sum of their parts. These first three mindsets represent the core raw materials that create the potential for enterprise leadership. The final two mindsets activate and fuel enterprise leadership, giving it clear focus, direction, and meaning.

Courage across and beyond: Enterprise leaders believe in their ability and responsibility to identify and address organisational problems and opportunities even when they are unpopular, fear provoking, challenging or outside their direct control. Consequently, they play a big game that extends beyond their formal role to impact the overall enterprise and beyond.

The why: The final mindset – purpose – warrants its own distinction. Enterprise leaders believe they have a responsibility and an opportunity to go further than their own interests and the interests of their function, to make a significant difference to others in the enterprise and beyond. This is a distinction that has been receiving a lot of attention lately, at the organisational level largely. Indeed, 2020 represented a major tipping point in this area. Organisations and leaders can no longer ignore or tick the box on corporate purpose. That being said, how a company brings purpose to life requires planning and careful consideration. For the majority, it commences with a declaration to “do well by doing good”. This is followed by examining the “materiality” of the business to align profit with purpose. Often this requires participation from all members of the organisation, to arrive at a set of commitments that motivate and mobilise. 

Purpose matters

Change starts at the top. Importantly, it requires a shift in the leadership mindset and a move away from traditional management to a mode of leadership facilitation, where the focus is on guiding versus controlling the enterprise. Enterprise leaders have a responsibility and an opportunity to go beyond their own self-interests to initiate an enterprise-wide culture that tackles people and the planet’s needs. Purposeful leadership fuels and sustains a leader’s tenacity and resilience in the face of disruption and setbacks. It also underlines their courage to step outside their natural traits and preferences, and is at the heart of their capacity to inspire discretionary effort from others.

It is therefore essential for an organisation to agree – top-down and bottom-up – to the meaning of corporate purpose and how it shows up in the company as part and parcel of every process and business decision. Enterprise leaders make corporate purpose the basis from which the entire organisation can create impact, which transcends the boundaries of their own enterprise to change the society they serve. For any company looking for a simple solution, or content with tweaking its mission statement to align with its communications strategy, be warned: stakeholders – including customers, partners, employees, and shareholders – are increasingly focused on making the modern corporation accountable.

Taking time to create the right corporate purpose framework and supporting culture will help enterprises reap vast rewards. At the end of the day, it is an organisation's employees that will carry the torch, protect its integrity, and advocate the corporate purpose agenda’s authenticity. The onus is on the leaders to enable and encourage them to do so. 

Enterprising Leadership for a
Changing World
PR 11 January, 2022