top of page

There's Never Enough Leaders Pt 2: Holistic Leadership Intelligence

With the passing of the late industrial age and advent and acceleration of a brand new ‘digital’ working world, the role of the leader continues to go through a significant evolution. No longer the ‘boss’ who sits at the top of the hierarchy within the production line-based, highly regulated working world, but increasingly the coach and ‘gardener’ who is ‘cultivating’ the working ecosystem within which people work. The goal is to enable and empower people to do the best work that is within them - unleashing their best. Most talent problems within organisations remain a leadership problem more than a talent problem - there are many studies that support this fact. 

The skills of leadership are changing. And fast. EQ now accounts for 58% of professional success and those with high EQ earn on average $28k/yr more than those who don’t. In a 40 year long study at Berkley University, EQ was determined to be 400% more powerful than IQ in predicting future success. Further to this, the Global Leadership Forecast 2021 by DDI, identified the following as the most important skills for effective leaders in the new digital age: coaching and developing others (leaders who excel here are 4.2 times more likely to be highly effective), leading change (leaders who effectively lead change are 3.5 times more likely to be highly effective) and collaboration and influence (leaders who collaborate and influence others well are 3.3 times more likely to be effective). EQ is not the optional ‘soft stuff’ any longer - these skills are the new hard skills. The best leaders are mandated by the business to drive results, but these results are contingent on forming dynamic partnerships across organisations that sit outside of reporting lines and are also now expected by their employees to create a meaningful and personal expression of engagement and experience. 

I spoke in my last article in this series about the five core elements that will help organisations take a systems based approach that can predictably build leadership capability across an entire organisation. The first of those elements is to define a target leadership model which relates to the kind of leader we want to multiply inside our organisation. 

So what is a target leadership model and why is this important? 

Every system must first start with defining its output. If I want to create a mechanical system that creates widgets, I need to first define what kind of widget I want to make. The size, function, design specifications and therefore the basis on which I know how successful the widget is. This output or design is primarily understood based on the function it will perform - which is normally driven by the market (what will people buy and its usefulness to the user to perform the task required). So, our leadership target model needs to define the kind of leader you most need within your business - not someone else’s. We must start with the end in mind. Starting by deeply understanding your business, the needs of your business, the culture of your unique business and the product or service you are selling and then asking what kind of leader is needed to succeed in that environment is a critical starting point. Whilst learning from best practice elsewhere is very important, I don’t especially believe in purely ‘imported’ leadership models. They don’t work. Your target leadership model needs to sit congruently with your history, your people, your business needs - many of these might have similarities with other organisations, but we are all deeply human and have our own unique story. This must be respected and built upon. So your target leadership model defines in enough detail (not too much detail - I’ve seen many dizzying ‘competency frameworks that only set us up for failure) the kind of leader you want to systematically reproduce within your organisation. The mindsets, skills and knowledge you need across the leaders inside your organisation. It’s essentially the design book for how we scale leaders.

Let’s think about some important principles that inform how you might do this. 

Everyone is a leader

Leadership at its heart is about influence. Everyone has influence, even if they only influence themselves. Some develop their influence and use it more effectively than others and that simply defines the sphere of their role over time. I believe firmly we need to shift our thinking in the way we think about leadership development to include everyone in your organisation. If we see everyone as a leader, it shifts our mindset to design our leadership model appropriately. Too much ‘leadership development’ assumes functional and positional leadership as its basis for inclusion in programs and therefore our senior leaders get expensive investment at the detriment of many others across the organisation. I’m not saying there’s never a place for this - I very much believe there is - just not as the default option. If we are not careful this default approach can have the unfortunate effect of creating deep divides within your organisation and ensuing resentment for privileged investment, it can limit the accelerated development of more junior members of the team and mean our development programs are more technical rather than focussed on holistic leadership. Our target leadership model should therefore be designed thinking of the whole first, and then only secondly breaking down the whole into people in the organisation who are focussed on leading themselves, leading others, leading leaders and leading the business. 

2. Holistic Leadership Intelligence

As described above, leadership is changing fast and the kind of leadership needed to be highly effective in the new world is far more holistic than it was in the late industrial age. The core strength required for leaders is broader and multidimensional. Simply put, highly effective leadership needs to balance - 

i. Skills Awareness or IQ - The digital age is characterized by constant change and disruption. Leaders need to be adaptable and agile, ready to pivot strategies and embrace new ways of working. They should be open to experimentation, quick to learn from failures, and able to lead their teams through digital transformations and organisational changes. Capable operationally, give direction, manage the work of others and deliver clear value. 

ii. Others Awareness or EQ - Leaders need to know how to build bridges between themselves and other people in every situation. They are empathetic, able to understand and connect with their teams and stakeholders on an emotional level. They demonstrate strong communication skills, active listening, and the ability to manage relationships in virtual and remote work environments. They foster a culture of teamwork, break down silos, and encourage cross-functional collaboration. 

iii. Self Awareness or PQ - Leaders should know what it is like to be on the other side of themselves. Most leaders consistently undermine their own influence by not not understanding the gap between their perception of and the reality of how people experience them. They also have a growth mindset and are committed to continuous learning, staying updated on industry trends, new technologies, and best practices. They should encourage and support a culture of learning within their organisation.

3. The coherency challenge

One of the most important challenges I have partnered with organisations to solve as they scale is trying to ensure that they maintain a coherency to the culture. I’ve often seen a patchwork approach to leader development in fast growth organisations. Different departments, or even different individuals are simply encouraged to find the best learning they can from whatever source they feel is best. This is not all bad as there is much excellent learning out there, but at an organisational level can create a very inconsistent and fractured culture. The more the company expands across geographic boundaries with leaders who are brought in with no back story or experience in the company, the bigger this challenge becomes. If leaders define culture, then ensuring that our leaders are modeling and taking ownership for the unique culture and leadership style and traits we have intentionally designed for becomes the bedrock upon which we scale a coherent culture. This means our internal team (your first and most important client) don’t suffer from a fractured and inconsistent user experience within our organisations, and that the business has the core capability needed to deliver with excellence its product and services to your commercial clients in a consistent way. Having a target leadership model means that we create a shared understanding of what good looks like for leadership within our organisation.

4. Simple, Sustainable, Scalable

Creating the Target Leadership Model itself needs to strive to find the simplicity on the other side of complexity. I’ve seen my fair share of overwhelming attempts at creating competency frameworks that can make even the smartest people confused. It can make us feel clever, but complexity rarely scales easily. I like to push for the simplest collection of core leadership capabilities that we truly believe we want to scale across the whole organisation. It’s a lot easier to add something that’s missing later than it is to start off the process trying to build the mythical ‘complete leader’.  The way I generally like to think about this is to use three simple frameworks to guide the creation of this Target leadership Model - 

  • Using the ‘Holistic Leader Intelligence’ principle, we define 2-3 core leadership capabilities required across each dimension of leadership (IQ, EQ, PQ) that we want to develop in everyone across the organisation. A generic example is shown below.

  • Using the ‘Everyone’ principle above we can then ask what each capability would look like at a leader of self, leader of others, leader of leaders and leader of business level in the business. Same basic capability but outworked on a broader level. I’ve given an example below. 

  • Finally, we take each capability broken down across the different leadership spheres and do one last thing. We break this down into mindsets, skills, and knowledge. This helps focus the definition of our development and makes us really sharp in the way we develop and the way we measure success. This is the bit that can easily get too complex so I aim for a max of 2-3 mindsets, skills, and knowledge in each capability area. 

Your target leadership model is the foundational starting point. It shouldn’t be seen as an unchangeable foundation stone, but something that guides overall development design which is adapted and iterated on over time as we keep better understanding the needs and demands of the business and changing market we find ourselves in. We will look at your system design next week.


bottom of page