It takes a village..

“It takes a village”

How many times have you heard this phrase?  Probably quite often, and generally in relation to raising children.

And what does it mean?  In my experience, quite a few things:

First and foremost, that you can’t do it on your own ie. it is physically impossible to raise children completely on your own. No matter what your personal circumstances or family configuration, we just can’t physically do all that is required to be done and always be available when required.

Secondly that you shouldn’t do it on your own. Why is that?  Well, you’re only one person.  As blessed as we may each be with our own unique skills, perspectives and approaches we can’t possibly bring the diversity of perspective and strengths that the involvement of others can bring. 

Third, by trying to do it on your own you are limiting the opportunity of the child to contribute, learn, grow and build confidence in themselves to face new challenges. In essence, to become more resilient and resourceful.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it takes a village to lead an organisation.

Before I go any further, I want to be really clear that in using this metaphor I am not implying that the people who work in organisations are like children and that the leaders are like parents.  It’s the parallel around role and purpose that is instructive for me. For example, in a family, the purpose of the adult role is to provide an environment where the children can not only survive, but grow and develop.  In an organisation, the purpose of a formal leadership role is to create a workplace environment where people are safe, can perform and thrive.

Nearly all organisations I have worked with in recent years are undergoing some type of significant change and transformation – whether that be driven by M&A activity, regulatory change, digitisation, customer centricity, cultural change and so on.  The leadership demands in these contexts are significant, essentially needing to run the business, whilst simultaneously turning the business on its’ head.  In these situations:

  • CEOs need to be part of a cohesive executive team to share the physical, cognitive and emotional load
  • Executive teams need to be able to call upon a strong senior leadership cohort who are empowered and skilled to facilitate cross-organisation collaboration and change
  • Senior leaders need to be supported by an aligned group of managers and team leaders who are connected to the day to day challenges faced by the people who serve the customer, in order to make changes real and ensure value is captured from organisational transformation efforts
  • And, ideally, in the most culturally mature organisations, leadership is mobilised broadly and through those who may not even have formally recognised leadership positions. These people create a movement for change which transcends formal leadership pathways and is driven and sustained by personal commitment and passion for the organisations’ purpose.

I believe it truly does take a village to lead an organisation. When the village is able to lead, we can create more resourceful, resilient and sustainable organisations, which value diverse perspectives and ensure individuals can thrive.

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