Leaders’ Top Challenges Tie Back to Effective Relationships

We recently interviewed several senior executives – mostly corporate technology and finance leaders – to understand their biggest leadership challenges.  One senior finance executive best summarized the findings:

“It all comes back to people when it comes to success.”

Well over half of the top challenges that raised the blood pressure of the corporate executives we interviewed have directly to do with relationships and communications.  Here are their top 5 people-related challenges:

  1. Influencing, aligning, and collaborating with peers, bosses, and other divisions or functions (Leaders cited this challenge more than any other.)
  2. Motivating and retaining key people
  3. Keeping teams focused, aligned, motivated, and moving towards their goals
  4. Mentoring and developing their up-and-coming associates to make the transition from being expert individual contributors to effective leaders
  5. Managing corporate politics – especially speaking up without getting shot down, along with getting the influence, respect, and advancement they desired

Leaders can run but not hide from the people challenges.

It’s no surprise that executives we interviewed mentioned the following additional causes of insomnia.  At first glance, they don’t seem to be about people.  But, surprisingly, when those we interviewed described these challenges, they talked about the people components:

  • Growing profitably requires clear and appropriate incentives, expectations setting, and collaboration across sales, finance, and other functions.
  • Strengthening infrastructure and updating internal processes as the business grows and changes is tough.  What makes this even more challenging, though, is convincing others of the need to change and then managing that change in a way so that people support and contribute to its success – instead of resisting or derailing it.
  • Bringing in talented resources and then allocating them wisely requires influencing to gain approval to do so and then collaborating within and across functions and divisions to help these people become effective.
  • Controlling costs requires clear communication, accountability, and difficult conversations.
  • Selling to external customers is even more challenging when the selling organization is not aligned internally and collaboration is not occurring.

Leaders turn to other leaders for help.

Where do leaders go for help in addressing these challenges?  To relationships.  They turn primarily to bosses and peers – whether internal colleagues or their external network.  (Note to self:  networks aren’t just for salespeople and job hunters anymore.)  Sure – books, articles, internet searches, and even SEC filings and annual reports from other companies can help – depending on the challenge.  But nothing beats a timely and personalized conversation with someone who:

  • Has already faced the challenge
  • Can ask a powerful question to help you move forward
  • Can contribute a different perspective or idea
  • Strengthens your confidence and resolve to act
  • Pushes you to look outside of your normal line of vision for an innovative solution
  • Will follow up later with you and ask you what you did about it.

Two Steps for You

If you are like the executives we interviewed and find that many of your biggest leadership challenges are people challenges, here are two suggestions:

  1. Identify the most important relationship-oriented skill that, if you improved, would make the biggest difference in helping you be more effective in leading.  (E.g., influencing or having difficult conversations)
  2. Find two people who are good at this skill.  Take them to lunch and ask for help in how to improve.

Stay tuned for more practical and researched-based articles coming your way soon – aimed at helping you improve your leadership effectiveness.