Navigating culture is biggest hurdle facing leaders, according to First100

HR Editorial , 18 Jun 2012

board diversity

More than four out of five chief executive officers and senior executives say they are not adequately supported during periods of leadership transition and find themselves in the position whereby they are left to either ‘sink or swim’, according to consultancy First100.

Navigating the culture is rated the greatest general leadership challenge during the first 100 days in a new position, meanwhile building a high performing team is ranked as the most important personal challenge. Overall, strategic thinking is considered the greatest strength of a leader.

In its report, The Truths of Leadership, First100 interviewed 50 chief executives and directors of blue chip global businesses.

Looking specifically at the first 100 days of a new appointment, navigating the culture was ranked as the greatest challenge facing leaders by respondents (58%), followed by building trust (22%). Time management and setting a clear direction ranked joint third with 10% of respondents listing them as the most important general leadership challenges.

From a more personal perspective, almost a quarter (24%) of respondents ranked building a high performing team as the most important personal challenge for the first 100 days of a new position, followed in second place by executing strategy (22%). Changing to a different industry was rated third (18%), understanding the context fourth (12%) and fire fighting fifth (5%).

Niamh O'Keeffe, founder, First100, said: "During times of leadership transition, senior executives find themselves under immense amounts of pressure, pressure that comes from all directions. This research shows, that in fact, leaders are not receiving adequate support they so desperately need in order to successfully overcome these pressures and worryingly, are in the position of feeling success in their role is not guaranteed. Companies and shareholders need their leaders to perform better and faster than ever."

When thinking about leadership generally, 30% of respondents said they consider strategic thinking to be the greatest strength of a leader. Just over a quarter, 26%, said communication skills were most important, followed by emotional intelligence (20%), a careful balance of self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy and social skill. 16% said commercial awareness and 8% tenacity.

Whilst 82% of respondents feel it has been a case of sink or swim during times of leadership transitions, 10% said they have been adequately supported. In comparison, of the 15 females who participated, 14 confirmed they have not been adequately supported during these times.

O'Keeffe added: "Without providing our leaders with the necessary support mechanisms, there is serious potential for leaders to fail to deliver against not only their personal but their general leadership challenges too. Failure to optimise the first 100 days results in a lost opportunity for the leader, resulting in losses for the inherited team and the organisation as a whole."


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So start investing properly

Liz Hardacre 18 Jun 2012

I'm not the least bit surprised by these findings. Having worked as a senior HR professional in a number of industries I know the value that external, properly accredited culture change and transformation practitioners can bring. They are more objective, have best practices and insights to share, cut through the nonsense to arrive at solutions faster etc. Yet most of my contemporaries have no budget for this type of help and I've seen many culture change practices forced to fold just when they are arguably needed the most. Why? because our priorities are wrong and administrators are acting as gatekeepers for the culture that caused the problems in the first place!

Reluctance to ask for help

Dr. Ada 18 Jun 2012

Great post! The results of the research are expected. What I'm curious about is why so many executives are reluctant to reach out for help when they recognize the challenges. As an external consultant, many times it's hard to convince the leadership I can bring so much value to their transitions. Maybe the day will come when organizations will recognize that whenever they are going through change and transitions, it's good practice to hire an external consultant that specializes in change to help.

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