The question Vince Molinaro asks senior leaders sounds simple enough: “How did you get your current job?” The answer, however, may be a little disappointing.
“Most often what I hear is, ‘If I’m honest, I kind of backed into it,’” Molinaro, global managing director of career transition and outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH) told The Art of Leadership conference in Toronto earlier this week. “It’s usually a combination of tenure and strong technical knowledge.”
While this could be the origin story of many CMOs, CIOs or senior sales executives at many organizations, however, Molinaro argued that too few leaders are given enough training and support to be successful. That was one of the reasons behind his 2013 book, The Leadership Contract, as well as a number of research projects LHH has done to capture what excellence in leadership looks like.
According to a survey of more than 2,000 business professionals around the world, for instance, 75 per cent said their biggest source of stress on the job was their manager. Only 44 per cent said their firm has set clear expectations of what leaders should offer, and a scant 20 per cent said they had the courage to address mediocre leadership.
“When you’re in that situation, you pretty much express to your whole company that it’s okay to be mediocre, because you’re going to tolerate it,” he said.
According to data it has gleaned through research and experiences with its customers, Molinaro said LHH has established some clear traits of the best leaders, regardless of their function in the company. This includes a few obvious ones, such as holding people to high standards, being willing to have tough conversations and effectively communicate. Some others, though, were about emotional intelligence.
Great leaders tend to express optimism about their organization and the future, for instance. They also display clarity about external trends — in other words, they’re not so in the weeds they become unaware of new competitive threats, customer needs and so on.
Molinaro’s contract, which was made available to attendees, focuses on making them more intentional about being a leader and committing to giving the role what it deserves. Too often, he said, leaders look at their mandate the way consumers might quickly click on the “I agree” button of an online contract before they set up an online service.
“You all know the deal. I sort of know I’m bound to something, but I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I always have this nagging fear that one day Apple or Amazon are going to come and take my three kids away from me.”
Similarly, leaders should not be caught unprepared when providing vision and direction makes them unpopular and being held accountable for their actions.
“One manager can change a broken environment,” he said.
The Art Of Leadership Toronto wrapped up on Tuesday.