Craft­ing Your Own Lead­er­ship

Business a.m. - - FRONT PAGE - Hen­rik Bres­man

N AN AGE WHERE even Sil­i­con Val­ley dis­rup­tors strug­gle to keep up, it is more crit­i­cal than ever for lead­ers to know them­selves. Oth­er­wise how can they learn and de­velop? Or cre­ate a dream team, one that mag­ni­fies their strengths and reme­dies their weak­nesses? Or avoid costly blind spots?

IN AN AGE WHERE even Sil­i­con Val­ley dis­rup­tors strug­gle to keep up, it is more crit­i­cal than ever for lead­ers to know them­selves. Oth­er­wise how can they learn and de­velop? Or cre­ate a dream team, one that mag­ni­fies their strengths and reme­dies their weak­nesses? Or avoid costly blind spots? Ex­cep­tional lead­ers need to have a thor­ough un­der­stand­ing of the world, their in­dus­try, their com­pany and – cru­cially – them­selves.

How­ever, as Ben­jamin Franklin wrote, “There are three things ex­tremely hard: steel, a di­a­mond and to know one’s self.” Based on decades of re­search on lead­er­ship ef­fec­tive­ness and close ob­ser­va­tion of lead­er­ship in prac­tice, we have de­signed a de­vel­op­ment and feed­back tool called the x360+ to fa­cil­i­tate this self-dis­cov­ery.

Since its launch in 2017, some 2,000 INSEAD pro­gramme par­tic­i­pants have used it to iden­tify their cur­rent lead­er­ship sig­na­ture – their unique way of lead­ing – and to ex­plore how they could fur­ther de­velop in their roles. As with other 360-de­gree tools, it al­lows sub­jects to com­pare their self-image with how man­agers, peers, sub­or­di­nates and ex­ter­nal stake­hold­ers per­ceive them. Our tool’s three core di­men­sions have been shown to be valid across cul­tures and types of or­gan­i­sa­tions.

In this first ar­ti­cle of a three-part se­ries, we will de­scribe the di­men­sion of adapt­abil­ity, i.e. the “Who you are” com­po­nent of the x360+.

Adapt­abil­ity and lead­er­ship

Our Adapt­abil­ity In­dex cap­tures decades of re­search on what dif­fer­en­ti­ates those who can deal with stress and lead through it and those who can­not. This as­pect of lead­er­ship con­sid­ers facets of the self that are rel­a­tively sta­ble and hard to change. It mea­sures how well re­spon­dents are able to adapt and thrive in an ex­po­nen­tially chang­ing con­text. It con­tains five parts:


In an en­vi­ron­ment that re­quires con­stant ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, set­backs are in­evitable. Re­silience refers to the abil­ity to bounce back from such set­backs and func­tion well in the face of ad­ver­sity. Those with re­silience have strong cop­ing mech­a­nisms and are less prone to anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. Low lev­els of re­silience may sig­nal the need to learn how to cope with set­backs or to stay away from more risky lead­er­ship work.

Emo­tional in­tel­li­gence

When the go­ing gets tough, it is easy to get over­come by nega­tive emo­tions, to lose one’s tem­per or to feel over­whelmed. Emo­tional in­tel­li­gence refers to the abil­ity to prop­erly mon­i­tor and reg­u­late one’s own emo­tions. It is also about assess­ing other peo­ple’s emo­tions and their im­pact. Lead­ers need to un­der­stand when they (or their team mem­bers) are in­ca­pac­i­tated by anger or fear and need some ex­tra time be­fore mak­ing de­ci­sions.

Para­dox­i­cal think­ing

Change tends to ex­ac­er­bate ten­sions be­cause re­sources are of­ten scarce. New pri­or­i­ties cre­ate com­pet­ing de­mands and can force lead­ers to choose, for in­stance, be­tween long-term and short-term gains. A para­dox­i­cal mind­set is the abil­ity to em­brace con­tra­dic­tions and to be en­er­gised rather than over­whelmed by them. Lead­ers who per­ceive ten­sions as op­por­tu­ni­ties are bet­ter able to de­vise fully in­te­grated so­lu­tions.

Learn­ing ori­en­ta­tion

Some peo­ple in­ter­pret fail­ure as an op­por­tu­nity to learn; oth­ers view it as a sign of poor per­for­mance. A learn­ing ori­en­ta­tion refers to the for­mer and it helps lead­ers quickly adapt both their think­ing and ac­tions to chang­ing de­mands. A strong learn­ing ori­en­ta­tion re­flects a ten­dency to seek new knowl­edge, to keep up with novel ideas and to con­stantly up­grade one’s skills. In an ex­po­nen­tially chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, a learn­ing ori­en­ta­tion is crit­i­cal for break­through per­for­mance.

Lead­er­ship con­fi­dence

When con­stant change be­comes the name of the game, top-down lead­er­ship is no longer suf­fi­cient. A com­mand-and-con­trol style must be re­placed by lead­er­ship ex­er­cised at all lev­els of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, what we call dis­trib­uted lead­er­ship. But for this to work, in­di­vid­ual con­trib­u­tors must have the con­fi­dence to step into a lead­er­ship role. Lead­er­ship con­fi­dence refers to the be­lief in one’s abil­ity to mo­bilise oth­ers and take on the next lead­er­ship chal­lenge. Lead­er­ship in this fast-paced world is not for the faint-of-heart. Courage and a can-do at­ti­tude is re­quired.

Self-aware­ness and com­pa­nies’ bot­tom line

There is no sin­gle way to lead, and no leader is per­fect. We can’t em­pha­sise enough that the x360+ is not an as­sess­ment tool. It is a de­vel­op­ment and feed­back in­stru­ment that aims to dis­cover your unique strengths, ex­pe­ri­ences and val­ues so you can build on them. Craft­ing your own lead­er­ship sig­na­ture is an on­go­ing process that be­gins by cre­at­ing a clear, un­var­nished pic­ture of who you are. It is about elim­i­nat­ing your blind spots. Self-aware­ness is em­pow­er­ing: It will al­low you to fig­ure out which skills you will need go­ing for­ward to be­come the best leader you can be. Self­knowl­edge will also en­able you to com­mu­ni­cate your style to oth­ers so that they can more eas­ily work with you.

In our next ar­ti­cle, we will dis­cuss the five ca­pa­bil­i­ties that en­able lead­ers to thrive and which form the se­cond di­men­sion of the x360+.

Hen­rik Bres­man is an As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Or­gan­i­sa­tional Be­hav­iour at INSEAD and the Aca­demic Di­rec­tor of the INSEAD Global Lead­er­ship Cen­tre (IGLC).

Deb­o­rah An­cona is the Se­ley Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Man­age­ment, a Pro­fes­sor of Or­gan­i­sa­tion Stud­ies and the Founder of the MIT Lead­er­ship Cen­ter at the MIT Sloan School of Man­age­ment.

“This ar­ti­cle is re­pub­lished courtesy of INSEAD Knowl­edge(http://knowl­ Copy­right INSEAD 2018

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