Lessons in Leadership: Commitment (an excerpt from Dr. Bandelli’s Book, What Every Leader Needs)

The financial crisis of 2008 hit many U.S. companies hard. The economic landscape was hit the worse in the finance and insurance sector. Many companies collapsed and had to close their doors. Luckily, my client’s company was given an opportunity to rebound and rebuild. Although they were given the chance to turn things around, John, their CEO, had a tall order in front of him. He needed to restructure and redesign the entire organization, and make sure the right leaders were in the right roles to get through the turnaround. It was around this time that John reached out to my firm to inquire about our process for leadership development assessments. He had gone through a leadership development process earlier in his career and thought this would be a great first step to giving his top thirty leaders the insights they needed to make the changes required for future success.

When we first met with John, he had a specific framework in mind for how he wanted to assessment process to go. We would need to build a leadership competency framework that would reflect where the company was headed, its future state, and not the current circumstances. He wanted leaders to be open about their reports, and their feedback, and to use this process as a mechanism for driving the changes needed at all levels of the organization. He was fully committed to seeing this development process through from start to finish. Based on his request, my firm crafted a series of assessment protocols to get his people the input and feedback they needed. We used a multi-method assessment approach involving a four-hour in-depth leadership interview, the use of on-line critical thinking tests and leadership personality instruments, interview-based 360-degree feedback, and external resume benchmarking and job profiling. The combination of these assessment tools enabled us to get accurate and detailed information about each leader. We then used this data to compare each leader to the leadership competency framework we developed for the future state of the organization.

From start to finish, the assessment and feedback process took close to eight months to complete. It was by no means a smooth process at various points throughout the engagement. Many of his top leaders did not feel the need for a leadership assessment at such a pivotal junction in the company’s history. Others did not want to go through a 360-degree feedback process, and definitely did not want to share the results of the assessment with John or one another. Despite these obstacles, John remained steadfast and determined to have his entire leadership team go through the assessment and feedback process. He felt it was critical to their growth and ability to effectively lead towards the future. John understood the importance of commitment. He had the fortitude to stay the course and make tough decisions for the benefits of the enterprise. He made sure that his team persevered through this process despite operating in a high-stress and complex economic environment.

Feedback can do one of two things to a leader. They will either reject the assessment and get very defensive with a consultant. These are typically not good circumstances for behavior change. In other instances, the light goes off and leaders take the feedback to heart. They use it to make improvements and strive to be better. Luckily for my firm, once all the leaders received their feedback, this is how a majority of them responded. They found the exercise, and the insights and feedback derived from the process, to be immensely helpful. It enabled them to look at their personal impact, and that of their teams. It built a sense of trust and camaraderie between leaders as they began to restructure and redesign the organization. It created the environment for a strong rebound and rebuilding of the company post the economic crisis.

Not only was the feedback process helpful to John and his top thirty leaders, but it initiated a focus on leadership and organizational effectiveness throughout their company. Once the top thirty leaders were given feedback, they wanted to offer this opportunity for many of their direct reports. We began working to drive positive leadership change across various areas of the business. Additionally, through John’s commitment to driving true leadership impact and change, the organization partnered with my firm to design key leadership competencies that would have an impact across functional boundaries, and at various levels of leadership. We took the leadership framework that was used for the top thirty leadership assessments and cascaded this down to the SVP, VP and Director levels. As time progressed, we began to see the leadership changes start to take place across the business. Leaders at all levels were more open to feedback from one another, and from external stakeholders. Teams began focusing on their collective effectiveness. Internal organizational effectiveness leaders began partnering with us to design a talent development program that would prepare high potentials for future roles of increased responsibility and scope. We were witnessing a true leadership turnaround and it all began with John’s commitment to excellence in his peoples’ leadership.

John understood the importance of commitment. He knew how to strive for a critical goal despite obstacles, setbacks, and challenges. He challenged his people to be greater and invited them to take part in the story of evolution and change. He prioritized leadership effectiveness as a critical growth factor to get his organization through the turnaround. This fostered clarity of purpose for his people, and helped them navigate times of doubt and uncertainty. John persisted despite the circumstances. He had the necessary focus and concentration to push his team through a difficult period and achieve their desired outcomes.

For more information on Dr. Bandelli’s book, What Every Leader Needs, contact _Bandelli & Associates at abandelli@bandelliassociates.com.

Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.