Senior Director of Research, Korn Ferry Institute
Enterprise leadership: New leadership for a new world
CEOs today are leading in a world moving through crisis and disruption—where challenges have no known solutions, or if they do, there are far too many choices and few clear ones. Yet even while driving change amidst all this uncertainty, they need to keep the trains running on time.
This expectation that CEOs will transform the business while they maintain strong performance is not exactly new; it’s a trend that has been on an upward trajectory for years. But the current landscape has only accelerated this need. Keep employees safe or maintain efficient operations. Seek big and bold ideas or continue with the current strategy. Scale the company or focus on the core customer.
On the surface, these pressures seem paradoxical. If leaders focus on transformation only, they risk failing to hit their numbers; if they focus on performance only, they risk falling behind their competitors. In reality, they are two sides of the same coin.
Think of today’s demand as a constant sway between performing now and transforming next. Even though the traditional business mindset puts these capabilities at opposite ends of one spectrum, they are not, in fact, mutually exclusive. Rather, they are simultaneous, ambidextrous, and symbiotic—they are true and actionable at once. An enterprise leader can perform as much as possible and transform as much as possible. It’s about maximizing both capabilities—and not at the expense of one or the other.
Indeed, many enterprise leaders have sat at the helm of highly transformational companies that delivered extraordinary results. But these top-performing CEOs were once seen as the exception to the business rule. Today, however, more and more organizations are creating Perform-Transform strategic priorities in order to meet the needs of this increasingly complex and uncertain environment. But for companies to implement these agendas successfully, we need a different kind of leader—one who has the capabilities to both perform and transform, along with the capacity and agility to pivot dynamically between the two, all in order to create impact across and beyond the enterprise and broader ecosystem.
We need Enterprise Leadership.
The global environment is more volatile, more interconnected, and more competitive than ever before. Indeed, over 85% of CEOs interviewed by Korn Ferry for the CEOs for the Future study told us the historical “line” between business and society is ever more porous. As a result, CEOs, C-suite leaders, and other senior executives must now respond to multiple stakeholders simultaneously, all while they handle challenges more complex, situations more ambiguous, and duties more significant than their predecessors faced.
If organizations want to thrive through this disruption, they will need more than sophisticated Executive Leaders—ones who lead vertically, direct employees, and drive strategic planning, decision making, and business outcomes for their business unit or function. They will need agile Enterprise Leaders—people who know how and when to perform and transform in today’s complex world, not just in their own area but horizontally, across the broader enterprise and ecosystem.
This is where the Enterprise Leadership comes in.
Korn Ferry’s Enterprise Leadership Framework provides a robust, research-based, multidimensional model linked directly to the strategic impact that is now crucial to the future of business. Yet, despite this critical need, our research shows that less than 14% of executives could be considered Enterprise Leaders. Rather, we have found that many CEOs still lead with mainly an executive approach.
But enterprise leadership is not a role; it is a never-ending developmental progression. And there may be a no more challenging, critical, and strategic investment than accelerating the development of courageous, visionary and authentic leaders who create impact across and beyond the enterprise and its ecosystem.
Executive leaders and other leaders in other mission-critical roles can progress into enterprise leadership with sophisticated assessment, development, coaching, mentoring, and stretch experiences. Grounded in deep science and practical experience, the Integrated Enterprise Leadership Framework provides a rich, measurable, and holistic approach to understanding, assessing, and developing Enterprise Leaders. The model identifies those key levers most pivotal in developing Enterprise Leaders, codified in three interconnected dimensions:
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Enterprise Leaders start with the type of impact they seek to create value across the enterprise and ecosystem, and across a broad range of stakeholders. They think far and broad, with a purpose-fueled vision that goes beyond customers and competitors to more fundamental elements that drive collective success, both now (based on current capabilities) and in the future (based on the capacity to develop). Focusing on impact enables Enterprise Leaders to harness the full potential of the organization in order to define and create value for all stakeholders, using a broad set of criteria, across multiple time horizons.
Perform-Transform Capabilities are based on a leader’s competencies and experiences that enable them to Perform and Transform across the enterprise with agility. Too often, definitions of Enterprise Leadership are simplistic and narrow, for example, simply operating in the best interests of the organization. From our research, however, the capabilities that we have identified span all aspects of leadership. Enterprise Leaders master performing and transforming across four areas: Visualize, Realize, Mobilize, and Catalyze.
Agile Mindsets show the Enterprise Leader’s capacity to grow into an Enterprise Leader, and to leverage both their Perform and Transform capabilities in a way that meets the challenge—or opportunity—at hand. Consider Agile Mindsets to be “force multipliers”: they can both enable and accelerate results. This makes Agile Mindsets foundational for Enterprise Leadership, as they power CEOs and senior executives to lead their organizations through the gray to the next “new normal.” Korn Ferry’s Enterprise Leadership Framework identifies five Agile Mindsets: Purpose, Courage Across and Beyond, Awareness of Self and Impact, Inclusion that Multiplies, and Integrative Thinking. These mindsets open or close the expression of our capabilities to make an impact.
The disruptive challenges leaders face today have never been so constant, so relentless, and so global. Disintermediation, economic upheaval, social unrest, health crises, climate change—these issues and others demand new leadership for a new world.
Enterprise Leaders run the business and change the business. They are courageous, innovative, and radically human motivated toward both driving exceptional results and inspiring enduring change for all stakeholders. These agile Enterprise Leaders interconnect purpose, performance, and impact, collectively.
Unlike traditional models, Korn Ferry’s Enterprise Leadership Framework recognizes that leading is no longer only about vertical power; now, it is about horizontal influence. Just consider this: roughly 72% of C-suite leaders who responded to a global Korn Ferry survey said their job requires “influencing others without having formal authority over them.” In the same survey, more than 69% reported having to negotiate or bargain with others to win support.
To succeed in today’s hyperconnected environment, leaders need to have wide reach within and beyond their business units. CEOs have to take a big-picture view of both their organization and its broader network, understanding deeply how all of their diverse parts interrelate, then working to maximize that interdependence. This is the crux of Enterprise Leadership: transcending the borders and interests of self, function, company, community, and even geography to create lasting value for the whole enterprise and the whole ecosystem.
Put another way: Enterprise Leadership sees beyond current obstacles to new value-creating realities.