A survey of top business executives from major international organizations found that 79% said it was extremely important to have leaders who act on behalf of the entire organization, not just their units. The rest said it was very important. Nearly 65% said they expected at least half of their senior and midlevel managers to behave as enterprise leaders — that is, executives who are as successful at serving the needs of the enterprise as they are at growing the units they head. The expectation that managers will know what’s happening elsewhere in the enterprise is rising, authors Douglas A. Ready and M. Ellen Peebles write, but few organizations have been set up to support the development of such enterprise leaders.
So how are managers learning to become effective enterprise leaders, and how can organizations encourage their development? The authors surveyed and interviewed scores of executives from the Americas, Europe, and Asia, and focused on three companies: Pfizer, Li & Fung, and Unilever. They found that regardless of the business or the location, enterprise leaders developed their capabilities in similar ways — through a combination of deliberate personal development, high-level mentoring, and opportunities afforded by their work that enabled strong unit performers to become even more effective as enterprise leaders.
According to the authors, the essence of enterprise leadership lies in combining two often incompatible roles — those of builder and broker. That means executives need to build their unit’s vision and integrate it into the wider corporate vision, clarifying where the enterprise is going and how their teams can best contribute, both within and beyond unit boundaries. They must build unit capabilities and share resources and business know-how across units to contribute to enterprisewide organizational capability.
Balancing the goals of the unit with the broader interests of the enterprise can be difficult, the authors concede. Having come up the ranks in silos, managers acquire strong building skills — not the brokering skills top leaders said they needed. From their interviews, the authors identified six components of what they present as a mindset for the successful enterprise leader: a heightened sense of place; a broad sense of context; a sharp sense of perspective; a powerful sense of community; a deep sense of purpose; and an abiding sense of resiliency.