To realise results in today's competitive and interconnected world, leaders need to increasingly navigate in a global economy that requires frequent interactions, interdependencies, and collaboration across boundaries. This new reality has significant implications for leadership effectiveness in organisations. Our latest client research identifies this as the top challenge leaders are facing today.
Recently I asked members of our global coaching team to share a key insight based on their experience coaching leaders who face this challenge. Our views are summarised below:
Seek to collaborate rather than win personally
Chris Robinson, executive coach in Singapore, highlights the importance of understanding the context and perspective of key stakeholders in other countries or business sectors, rather than being caught up in a personal view of priorities. He encourages leaders to collaborate and take a wider organisational view, instead of driving a personal win. This usually achieves better, and often quicker, results.
For example, the APAC MD of a global business was frustrated by increasing demands for higher sales revenue by the New York HQ, despite the HQ declining to sign off on a potential revenue generating opportunity. After communication became adversarial, he changed his approach; he began to listen to gain understanding, and stopped trying to prove he was right. This helped him hear that the changing industry priorities of key investors were placing the entire business under pressure. With this insight, he rethought his approach to new business and sought to collaborate with the board. He was quickly able to gain support for more cost effective, lower risk business opportunities, which helped his region's revenue growth and contributed to a healthier global business.
Tap into what is important to key stakeholders
Similarly, Asli Aker, executive coach in Singapore, urges leaders to relate and understand first and develop the influence strategy later. Many leaders tend to first focus on taking charge. However, it makes a difference when you balance the need to take charge, with building understanding first.
For example, Asli refers to a leader she coached who changed his natural style by shifting the focus from himself to others. Instead of advocating the benefits of his vision and course of action, his teams organised listening tours where they heard about the challenges and pressures of the people they would be working with. This provided the opportunity to share solutions the new approach would provide for these needs, making the vision relevant and creating a bridge across boundaries, producing better results.
Diversify your engagement and build trust
One emerging theme is that understanding what is important for the other is key; another is about authentic engagement. As an executive coach in Sydney, I have seen many leaders face the challenge of collaborating and delivering results through stakeholders across the APAC region, sometimes without direct authority. While stakeholders may trust your technical or commercial expertise, they are likely to think about how your initiative will impact them, how their contribution will be viewed, and whether you have their interests at heart. For meaningful collaboration across stakeholder groups it becomes critical to diversify your engagement and communication approach as you build mutual understanding on priorities and desired outcomes, but also to establish a stronger, authentic foundation of trust.
To illustrate, an Australian MD transitioning to a larger APAC role within a global business needed to build collaboration and innovation across a number of teams to significantly grow business results. He realised trust was the critical foundation for real innovation, sharing of creative or risky ideas, and for meaningful collaboration to occur. Involving key stakeholders in a variety of ways, he initiated a number of team engagement sessions across the region to understand what was important for others and to build trust that he cared about their interests. He involved stakeholders in fostering a shared vision for the new way forward, as well as agreement on delivery, and in this way built energy, focus, and commitment.
Grow your inter-cultural understanding
Bob Mannering, executive coach in London, shares his experience on enhancing engagement across divides. He encourages leaders to think about "walking in the shoes of the other" and to reflect on cultural assumptions early on, such as differing expectations and ways of appropriately communicating and dealing with issues.
He shares the example of an India-based CEO, who needed to strategically engage a wide range of diverse stakeholders, including their Dutch Chairman. The CEO began his learning journey by observing the body language of key stakeholders, and listened to how other cross-culturally skilled leaders used open questions to draw out insights from others. Bob suggests consideration of questions such as: What drives the stakeholder? What does success look and feel like for them? Whose views in the wider organisation do they respect, and why? The CEO reflected on his insights with his leadership team to explore how to better build cross-cultural engagement and modified three of his own behaviours for positive stakeholder engagement.
In conclusion, growing results by influencing stakeholders across markets, business units, and countries is not easy. Apparent from the insights shared is the underlying importance of building mutual understanding as well as authentic stakeholder relationships, to unlock the benefits of new ways of working together. We hope you find these examples useful as you embrace this challenge and the opportunities it provides.