Every organization wants to achieve high performance, but the reality is that only a select few have the ability to successfully execute strategic initiatives that drive success. What do these companies know that you don’t? If your company is missing targets or starting to fall behind, that is exactly the question you should be asking.

Sometimes, an organization’s processes become hindrances. Other times, it’s a lack of vision. Most often, however, it is a combination of missteps that stem from a lack of strong adaptive leadership skills ranging from managing complexity to driving change—skills many leaders don’t even realize their teams need.

Reality check

Is your company falling short? Can you confidently say your teams are operating at optimal levels and meeting every goal you set? If not, it is time to take an honest look in the mirror and pinpoint the areas where you may be missing the mark.

Doing the wrong projects. Perhaps the problem is not how you are tackling projects, but that you are tackling the wrong projects. Choosing the right projects to achieve strategic goals is critical. However, that’s not an easy task in an uncertain, fast-changing market. Today’s leaders need to know how to ask the questions necessary to define what possible solutions the organization could use to innovate. Leveraging tools like design thinking and Agile can play a huge role in ensuring you are getting it right from the start of the strategy phase.

Asking the wrong questions. Too often, leaders get so focused on what they are doing and how they are going to do it, they forget to ask why it is even being done. More so, they forget to communicate the “why” to their teams. The key to successful project leadership is aligning the direction of the team early on by exploring bigger picture questions such as: Why are we doing this project? How does it drive value to the larger vision, mission, and values of the organization? How does it drive value to each stakeholder? This is critical for any leader that is trying to build an effective team. In fact, research shows that there is a 1.9 times increased likelihood of having above-median financial performance when the top team is working together toward a common vision.1

Putting metrics before people. High performers don’t focus solely on metrics like time, cost, and scope. Instead, they look at the people involved as well. Timelines and budgets often push many project-based leaders to rush past important teambuilding tasks like collaboration and alignment of direction. However, team members need to take the time to build relationships before they can work together effectively. Metrics are just about what has been done. Successful leaders understand that how they conduct a project is just as important as what they accomplish.

Failing to foster collaboration. Do your teams operate in a culture of questioning? Do you allocate time and opportunity for feedback and collaboration? Gone are the days of a command-and-control management style. Today’s high-functioning organizations use more of a lateral approach to management that allows for open communication among all stakeholders. When team members are given the space to question, collaborate, and innovate, they will feel more invested in the bigger picture as they conduct their day-to-day work, and as a result, will have a better chance of realizing an organization’s strategic goals.

Poor leadership. Even the most knowledgeable leaders can fail simply because they are leading too much. In project-based work, a leader’s roles should change as the project progresses. Put simply: There is a time to lead, a time to facilitate, and a time to get out of the way. For example, at the beginning phase of a project, a line-of-business leader should provide clarity, vision, and direction. As the team matures and becomes more self-managing, the leader should take a less active role and move into the background and use more of a coaching style. This doesn’t mean a leader should ever completely check out, but, instead, should focus more on providing feedback, rewards, and inspiration as the project moves toward completion. Top organizations understand that micromanagement isn’t usually the answer. When given the right tools, an empowered team is a successful team.

Research indicates that skills like communication and adaptability are in short supply. According to 2016 research by economist Guy Berger, Ph.D., 59% of hiring managers indicated that soft skills were difficult to find, while another 58% of respondents indicated that lack of soft skills among candidates is “limiting their company’s productivity.”2

The missing ingredient

What is the secret to high performance? For most organizations, it almost always traces back to how much an organization values—and is willing to invest in—the skills that are necessary to develop, communicate, and execute strategic initiatives. Whether it is learning to think outside the box during the strategy phase or how to effectively drive and influence change, today’s leaders need to be equipped with a host of adaptive skills if they want to take their company from surviving to thriving.

1 Keller, S. & Meaney, M. (2017) Leading Organizations: Ten Timeless Truths. New York, NY: Bloomsbury
2Berger, G. (August 2016) Soft Skills Are Increasingly Crucial to Getting Your Dream Job, LinkedIn Pulse. Retrieved from LinkedIn