How to develop an Enterprise Leader mindset
If you're a business leader in today's world, you're not just being pulled in different directions—you're being swept up in complex and conflicting demands. You're expected to transform your organization but also remain true to your core business principles. To make a lasting impact on social values but not sacrifice economic ones. To prioritize your coworkers' physical and mental health but also maintain productivity levels.
Executive Leadership isn't designed for these balancing acts. But Enterprise Leadership is.
Executive Leaders set ambitious targets for individual departments in an organization, chart a path toward them, then measure the progress of each. But in today's complex world, where social, economic and global concerns blend together, true progress isn't linear. It swells in all directions.
But leaders with an Enterprise Leader mindset make decisions that serve not only the entire organization but the entire ecosystem, that weigh multiple perspectives, and that advance on all fronts. Fostering an Enterprise Leadership mindset can be difficult —based on recent Korn Ferry research, only 14% of executives exude the qualities and skills of an Enterprise Leader—but if you do it, your impact will be multiplied across all aspects of your business, enabling the full enterprise to thrive.
Many organizational leaders have reached their positions by excelling in a system based on silos. They've been rewarded for their dedication to a specific unit, function or geography.
When promoted to the executive level, these leaders may gain oversight of the whole organization but are likely still applying a vertical style of thinking. You might know certain CEOs who operate in a "hub and spoke" manner; they make strong decisions in certain departments but fail to see their connections and interdependencies. Sometimes there's a lingering loyalty to the division of the business they came from that causes them to overlook other possibilities.
It takes a radical shift in perspective to think horizontally considering all units, functions, and geographies equally and simultaneously, and outside of the enterprise. But it's possible.
To evolve your leadership style, you need the right framework. Korn Ferry has developed an Enterprise Leadership framework that outlines the four capabilities and five mindsets needed to be an Enterprise Leader. These practices can change the way you think and breathe new life into your business:
Counterintuitively, the first thing you do is nothing. Taking a strategic pause—a moment to reflect and gain awareness and clarity—is incredibly powerful. This sets your state of mind to listen, absorb, and question.
This starts with deep reflection. Consider the needs, goals, and challenges of individual business units in the organization and listen to what others are saying. Think about pathways for collaboration that exist or need to exist. Reflect on who is thriving and who might be getting left behind as the business evolves. Be honest about your own gaps: Which units do you not feel connected to? Which do you need to know more about? Which have been lowest on your priority list?
Pausing to consider these critical questions will force you to honestly confront who you are, how you act, and what needs to change. It's the first—and most powerful—step on the road to becoming a leader that takes holistic action for the good of everyone.
Changing your leadership style requires the ability to think about things from different perspectives. To do this well, you have to break free of many existing assumptions, belief systems, and unconscious mindsets you currently hold. For example, are you so sales-focused that you've shifted attention away from customer service? Do you value quantitative data so much that anecdotal input falls flat? Have you focused so much on the customer that you've neglected your employees? Do you value humility so much that you hold back from contributing your perspectives about the broader enterprise? Are you unintentionally overlooking perspectives from employees of different ages, races, genders, or sexualities?
Dive deeply into your ingrained beliefs and consider how these drive the way you lead. Question and challenge your assumptions about your business, your priorities, your ways of working, and your methods of collaboration. Through this process, you can start to understand how your established perspective may limit your ability to lead holistically. You often need a “mirror” for this, someone to challenge you—it’s hard to do this alone. That’s why coaching and feedback can be so helpful. Only then can you begin to shift your mindset.
Becoming an Enterprise Leader requires you to be an agile leader—able to pivot between your duties to help the organization both perform and transform. Developing these five mindset will help flex your Enterprise Leadership skills:
A purpose mindset involves truly understanding why your organization exists and what it stands for—but it goes beyond the organization’s mission. It actually starts with understanding and aligning your own personal purpose to the organization’s. If you let your personal purpose guide you, you'll have solid principles to back the decisions you make, and you'll have a better view of your organization as a whole. You'll see the big picture that everything else is a small part of, helping you consider the full constellation—rather than the single star—of all the internal and external areas your business influences.
Clearly defining your personal purpose can often prompt a leadership breakthrough. When your thinking and decision-making are anchored in your core purpose, your actions can be more deliberate and consistent. It also gives you the energy and the resilience to achieve what you need to achieve.
This mindset helps you find the strength to address problems across the enterprise even when they're difficult or unpopular. Say, for example, that you find criticism uncomfortable. Developing a mindset that you have the responsibility to weigh in on and contribute to issues across and beyond the enterprise can give you the courage to act. Taking time to consider your personal leadership qualities and comfort zones is a crucial step toward nurturing the decision-making skills you'll need as an Enterprise Leader.
This mindset will also help you make tough but value-aligned decisions and chart the path forward for the whole organization. Perhaps it's time to sell a successful business area that is carbon generating to better support your sustainability efforts, or maybe you need to cut ties with a region that has become unsupportable.
At a basic level, self-awareness is having a knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses. But it goes much deeper than that. It’s also about understanding your preferences, motivations, beliefs, and attitudes and how they shape your decisions and actions. Leaders who are self-aware are willing to question and challenge their beliefs to make a bigger impact.
You also need to be aware of the impact your behaviors and style have on others. Have the humility to identify your blind spots and accept feedback, even when it contradicts your own beliefs about yourself. This takes a great deal of emotional intelligence.
When you bring in different voices to contribute to an idea, the greater that idea can grow to be. This is true in incremental terms, meaning that everyone adds their individual value. But it's also just as true in exponential terms, meaning that the collective power of collaboration multiplies with each new voice.
The same principle applies at an organizational scale. By creating meaningful partnerships among stakeholders and networks—both internally and externally—you allow your organization to grow to its full potential.
Leaders often excel at deep, analytical thinking. When faced with a problem, this kind of thinking helps you identify and fix the root cause. When deciding between two or more possible strategies, it allows you to compare and contrast before choosing which direction to take. While this can be useful, it sometimes leads to black-and-white thinking or getting too caught up in the details.
Its partner is integrative thinking. This involves taking a broad, holistic view—zooming out on an issue to see it in its full context. Instead of looking for the black and white answers, it encourages you to get comfortable with shades of gray.
This mindset is what pushes you to generate creative solutions without the limits of boundaries, divisions, or silos. This is the essence of horizontal thinking that is critical to enterprise leadership.
As an Enterprise Leader, you must ensure that high-potential leaders within your organization are primed to develop these mindsets as they progress in their careers. You can spot these people with the Enterprise Leadership potential early on in their career. They are the ones connecting the dots horizontally, collaborating, and showing courage advocating for issues that aren't just in their own area. And to do this effectively, you need to introduce them to a wide variety of experiences so they can gain new perspectives. For example:
These opportunities encourage horizontal thinking. Soon, you'll see collaboration expand across the entire organization—not just because people have been prompted to but because they understand how it multiplies their ability to make an impact. Coworkers will start to advocate for others' ideas when they have a stronger business benefit than their own ideas. In the end, you'll be leading an organization full of people pursuing not just individual or siloed-team success but thinking about the best interests of the enterprise.
Ready to evolve your leadership style? Find out more about the Enterprise Leader Institute.