by Clare Moncrieff


The lone wolf leader talks to their peers infrequently, rarely collaborates with others and often thinks only of their immediate team


Gone are the days of ‘going-it-alone’ glory for leaders. Research from CEB, based on thousands of executives and managers in South Africa and overseas, has found that the most successful leaders are those who build strong partnerships with their peers and leverage the expertise of others to get things done. Yet, at the moment, only one-in-10 leaders are operating in this way.

The ‘lone wolf’ leader talks to their peers infrequently, rarely collaborates with others and often thinks only of their immediate team, rather than the wider company. These leaders are so focussed on increasing their own individual performance that they are blinkered to what’s going on around them.

Historically, of course, we have seen a number of highly successful traditional ‘lone wolf’ leaders whose conventional styles of leadership were very effective at the time. But it’s no longer enough to come up with a vision or new strategy and implement it on your own. The reality is those company bosses who work in this way are missing significant revenue growth opportunities by failing to work together effectively.

In today’s ever-changing work environment, 67 percent of leaders excel at problem-solving, managing talent and innovating and 82 percent are meeting their performance objectives as a result. However, their strong individual outcomes are not translating into enough improved performance across the business to achieve company growth objectives.

The most successful leaders are those who think and act in the best interest of the company as a whole, rather than in the narrow interest of their department or function. We call these leaders ‘Enterprise Leaders’.

They bring people together to create greater value for the organisation; driving productive collaboration at the top amongst their leader peers as well as working across internal silos to utilise the skills and outcomes of other teams across the enterprise.

Based on our research of more than 1 400 senior leaders globally we have identified the three characteristics that differentiate Enterprise Leaders:

They know how to delegate work effectively

Instead of keeping information close to their chests, they welcome support and learn to trust their peers, empowering them to drive company-wide innovation.

They take from and give to their peers

Leaders reach goals not just through their own individual efforts but also by listening to their peers’ alternative ideas and approaches. They also share their ideas across other business units in the organisation to drive company-wide results.

They facilitate rather than direct team performance

Effective leaders embrace the reality that they have limited insight into the day-to-day work of their employees.

As such, they shift from telling employees what to do to connecting them with other solutions and support across the company to make their jobs easier.

Enterprise Leaders are proven to have a significant impact on company-wide revenue, boosting annual business unit revenue growth by up to 12 percent annually and creating a spill-over effect of up to five percent revenue growth in other parts of the company. They also achieve better professional success for themselves.

Customers benefit too. Enterprise Leaders, through greater collaboration and understanding of the wider organisation’s goals and business objectives, generate 20 percent higher customer satisfaction.

For some at the top of an organisation, which inevitably sets the tone for employees further down the hierarchy, enabling collaboration may seem a distraction from their core work, but data shows that employees actually perform better in response to this leadership style. Teams managed by Enterprise Leaders are 23 percent more likely to be innovative and 15 percent more likely to generate solutions to new or anticipated problems than those managed by even very successful ‘lone wolf’ leaders.

So what is it that leaders can do to change their approach?

From our work, we have identified five steps to help business leaders become more collaborative partners and successful Enterprise Leaders:

Maximise productive collaboration opportunities

A total of 63 percent of leaders admit to having a limited understanding of how their work contributes to the bigger picture. Leaders need to focus their efforts on the highest value opportunities for the business and leverage the skills of their peers to expedite other projects.

Seek out new perspectives

Leaders need to actively identify and seek advice from colleagues who challenge the status quo. Think about the planning assumptions or ideas that could be pressure-tested with peers. This opens up a broader network of contacts that will provide different perspectives and new ways of doing things.

Identify blind spots in peer networks

We discovered that 56 percent of leaders do not believe that they have the right connections to help them solve new challenges. Leaders should build and facilitate connections with co-workers across different levels of the business where partnering would be mutually beneficial.

Incorporate collaboration into regular activities

Leverage existing opportunities within day-to-day activities to proactively provide and receive peer support. As leaders face more new situations they need coaching and advice from their direct reports and other employees with direct knowledge or relevant experience. They must also delegate assignments to provide valuable development opportunities for others.

Enable teams to network effectively

Only 39 percent of leaders understand how their teams’ work contributes to the wider organisation. By connecting team members to colleagues outside their immediate sphere, cross-team working will generate improved business results as employees contribute and use best practices, new ideas and innovations In addition to leaders changing their approach, talent professionals also need to be equipped with the knowledge of what sets apart this new generation of leaders and look at ways to redirect investments into developing Enterprise Leaders.

Although the reign of the lone wolf leaders has come to an end, the era of Enterprise Leader has already been proven to drive greater growth and promote a more productive and rewarding work environment for the workforce. If companies and leaders themselves do not acknowledge the new work environment, they risk falling behind other businesses that have already embraced this change.

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