Close article 2nd September 2020

The ABCs of High Impact Leadership

It’s September – back to school time for many families. As kids, some of us struggled to learn our ABCs or their equivalent. We know it takes lots of effort and guidance from both patient teachers and loving elders. Given our childhood experience, we shouldn’t be surprised that being an effective leader also requires continuous learning, application and support.

At the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), we have created an online short course called High Impact Leadership to help individuals become more effective leaders in the constantly changing context in which they operate. It addresses the challenges and dilemmas that existing and aspiring leaders have told us they were grappling with and which are particularly relevant in the world right now. About 1000 individuals from all walks of life and from all parts of the world have now completed the 8 week course. It can be summarised with the following ABCs but let’s start with the Cs.

C is for context, complexity, consciousness, curiosity and collaborative leadership to co-create solutions. If the past six months has shown us one thing it is that nothing is certain and static. We need leaders who can navigate the complexity, be comfortable dealing with the discomfort and ready to lead whatever their context and wherever they sit in an organisation or their community. But this requires honed skills and high levels of consciousness. On High Impact Leadership, you will increase your awareness of your own leadership and impact. You will expand your knowledge about the thinking, values and practice required to lead today.

Key characteristics of this leadership include being agile and curious to acquire new knowledge, to look at the world from divergent perspectives and engage with different types of stakeholders. Individual entities cannot solve today’s global problems on their own. We require new courageous collaborations willing to take risks and experiment to co-create new and effective solutions. We explore all these elements in High Impact Leadership.

When it comes to leadership challenges, there are two themes that come up most often:

A is for alignment: how can we create alignment between our personal purpose and that of the organisation we work with? When employees feel aligned with the organisation’s purpose, they are at their most motivated and effective. They choose to go the extra mile. Purposeful organisations have a North Star that is understood and cared about by leaders at all levels, it is embedded in the strategy, guides decision making and drives action. We can all think of purposeful organisations that we admire and choose to invest in whether that is through our energy or purchasing power. Where we struggle, often to the detriment of both organisational and personal health, is when there is misalignment. On High Impact Leadership, we examine purpose, how to create it, embed it and achieve alignment in order to build resilience.

B is for “break through”, our second common challenge – how to break through gridlock when we get stuck. A common characteristic of misalignment is an inability to find common ground or even respect for difference. We see increasing polarisation on all issues, at all levels – personal, organisational and global. We only need to look at global media to see how toxic and polarised some topics have become. If we can’t communicate with each other, we are left stuck in our siloes. Dealing with conflict and breaking through gridlock is a fundamental leadership skill which requires humility, empathy, courage and skilful stakeholder engagement.

As our kids go back to school, maybe it’s time we updated our own education to increase our effectiveness as leaders in these unprecedented times and at the same time role model to the younger generation the true value of education. Equip yourself with the skills and mindset required to become a high impact leader who can create the future we want. Ready to take a fresh look at your ABCs?

For more information on the course which starts on September 9th, go to the CISL website.

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