Leadership Engagement Starts at the Top

Pink staircase and the steps to leadership engagement

It’s widely accepted that leadership engagement is a key factor for achieving program-driven change.

But what does leadership engagement mean in practice? Large-scale business initiatives begin with transactional improvements in ‘business as usual’ and evolve to the wholesale transformation of organizations, operations, and cultures.

“There is a growing knowledge base about large-scale organization organizational change.  This literature is quite consistent on at least one aspect of effective system-wide change—namely, executive leadership matters.”

Leadership is often thought of as executive leadership - sponsorship of an initiative by a C-level executive or team. Numerous studies confirm that executive engagement underpins projects, and Appirio’s collective experience supports this view. 

But what drives effective executive leadership? And is executive engagement alone enough to succeed—or are additional types or levels of engagement needed? 

First, let’s focus on executive engagement and the transactional and behavioral components of effective executive leadership.  

Executive leadership’s transactional component speaks to four vital contributions leaders must make:

  • The C-suite controls the investment agenda.  Every project begins with CAPEX and OPEX decisions owned by your senior leaders.
  • Every organization has multiple priorities. Effective leaders ensure their organizations understand where each project stands in the pecking order.  
  • Projects soar or crash around the quality of the talent and resources engaged.  Effective leaders obsessively secure, groom, and retain the best talent and resources.  Top leaders also commit their best assets to their most important projects.  
  • Finally, effective leaders are the program’s ‘break glass in case of fire’ resource.  Effective leaders expend political capital when needed. Whether individually or on a steering committee to help make the critical decisions that shape a project’s path and outcome.  

Engaged leaders must fulfill this  “four for four” mandate. But in true transactional fashion, an engaged leader should equally expect their projects will push through tough times. They should expect the timely, cost-effective completion of their projects. And they absolutely do expect commensurate returns to projects they charter and support.  

Executive leadership’s behavioral component speaks to the expectations leaders must meet.
Many traditional approaches to sponsor development are an attempt to train executives to be the perfect sponsor – to think and do things differently. No leader is perfect and asking people to abandon the behaviors that have potentially fueled their success is problematic.

Instead, it’s better to encourage the few things people notice and care about during uncertain times. After professionally engaging over 10,000 people in change programs over the years, I believe people want the following three things from their leaders:

  • They want the opportunity to be heard in a two-way exchange - not just at the ‘local-level.’ Successful program leaders listen well, and actively engage everyone in conversations, meetings, and events.
  • People want their leaders to honestly recognize their reality. The costs incumbent to change cannot be sugar-coated. Real leaders speak plainly about benefits AND costs.
  • They expect a response to shared concerns and will enthusiastically support leaders who anticipate and address future concerns

In short, effective leaders don’t need to be inspirational paragons.  They just need to get these few things right.

And they need help getting these few things right.  Executive engagement is a program element, just like development, testing, and training.  As such, executive engagement should be planned, managed, and measured.  

The Appirio Approach to Executive Engagement

Appirio begins the journey to executive engagement with a highly engaging Leadership Engagement Workshop.  Appirio’s leadership engagement approaches and activities are woven into the overall change plan and integrated with other transformational and training activities, such as a change advocacy program. Apprio’s leadership engagement approach and assets accelerate and ensure effective executive engagement and are custom-tailored to fit your needs.

Executive engagement is critical for achieving program-driven change.  But executive engagement alone, however effective, is not enough. Successful projects consist of multiple levels of engagement.  

Ready to learn more?
Stay tuned to discover the deeper levels of executive engagement in my next post. In the meantime, check out the latest Appirio news here.

About the Author

Michael Connor

Michael Connor is a Managing Consultant at Appirio.

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