The Leadership ABCs

Last week, we explored a few simple tips that will help leaders foster a high-performance culture.

As I’ve said many times, everything that happens with your team – from the top down – is a direct result of your leadership style. Everything you say, do, and how you show up will set the tone for everyone you engage with, so please do not underestimate the influence you have on those around you.

I have personally been on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviors and treatment from careless leaders who weren’t concerned with how they made others feel. For them, it was all about the bottom-line results and having a sense of control. One of the reasons that solidified my path to leaving the corporate world was because I was tired of working for and with leaders who didn’t care. They were more focused on status than supporting others to excel.

It was exhausting at times, but thankfully, I also worked with some amazing leaders in my 20-year corporate career. The only upside I came away with from experiencing poor leadership is that it gave me great insight into what not to do as a leader.

Leadership ABCs

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, they explored the leadership ABCs that are required to thrive today and into the future where leaders must master three key roles - architect, bridger, and catalyst. The days of “do as I say, not as I do” are long gone, and leaders who emulate this old-school thinking and behavior experience limited success and longevity in their roles.

As architects, it is our responsibility to build the culture and capabilities for co-creation within teams and across the organization. As bridgers, we nurture and enable networks of talent inside and outside organizations to co-create together. And as catalysts, we lead beyond our organizational boundaries to energize and activate co-creation across entire ecosystems. Our span of influence is broad, inside and outside the organization. That is the level of leadership required to lead in our new world of work. 

These ABCs require leaders to stop relying on the hierarchy and “formal authority” as their source of leading, and shift to a style that enables diverse talent to collaborate, experiment, and learn together. This type of leadership calls for inclusivity, selflessness, out-of-the-box thinking, and the ability to build meaningful relationships, just to highlight a few necessary skills and approaches. There is no place for feeding “egos” and bravado in today’s world.

In the book Collective Genius, which explores the intersection between leadership and innovation, it highlights the paradigm shift for what makes great leaders who exude inspiring influence within organizations. It describes how the role of leaders is no longer about getting others to follow them into the future; instead, it is about inviting others to co-create the future with them, by encouraging a collaborative process made up of teams with individuals who have diverse expertise and experience who are willing and able to collaborate, experiment, and learn together.

All the leadership examples referenced in this book were given by visionaries who knew that innovation was rarely the result of individual genius, which is why they adopted an inclusive definition of leadership and believed that everybody had a “slice of genius” where their talents and passions could be unleashed and leveraged to develop innovative solutions. 

They encourage and support bottom-up creativity, initiative, and risk taking while establishing structures, performance metrics, and guardrails to mitigate risk and keep people aligned. 

They also removed barriers to innovative problem-solving and built what they called “community cultures,” in which team members were aligned with a common purpose, shared values, and mutual rules of engagement that served as the foundation for co-creation.

Instead of leading the charge and being front and centre, these leaders learned to set the stage and create an environment in which others were willing to lead and work together on innovating and solutioning. This type of leadership requires emotional resilience, courage, and patience to encourage the diversity of thought, navigate potential conflict, experiment, fail fast while allowing for the diversity of thought to come up with creative solutions and ideas.  

We know from research that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams, and it requires the right style of leadership to value the diversity and leverage it from an innovative, inclusive perspective to come up with creative ideas.  

The Architect

The research noted in the book describes leaders who know how to create the type of culture and capabilities that encourage everyone within an organization, from frontline staff to senior executives, to offer ideas and innovate. 

In more recent research being conducted by the author, they explain that architects now use five levers to design, build, and evolve their organizational architectures to support innovation over time: leadership style, talent, structure, operating model, and tools. With these levers, they remove barriers that limit creativity and build the mindsets and behaviors required for co-creation and innovation.

The Bridger

It is the leader’s responsibility to encourage innovation across departments, business units and geographical locations, and what is even more of a challenge is encouraging individuals and teams to work closely with people outside the organization. But that’s exactly what a bridger must do; work with others to gain access to talent and tools that cannot be found internally and network externally to build these connections that will support innovative collaboration and problem solving.

I often ask leaders I work with, are you solely internally focused or are you leveraging your network and looking outside the confines of your organization to learn and explore what is possible and encouraging those around you to do the same?

The Catalyst

The role of the leader as catalyst is to encourage and foster relationships with other organizations outside or inside the same industry sector, that can assist with or are dependent on achieving organizational success. 

Catalysts proactively detect and manage interdependencies that exist and bring the right people together to empower and influence other organizations to work differently. They may have no direct control of these outside organizations, and it comes down to the power of influence to get others to think differently and collaborate in an innovative way to achieve organizational goals and objectives.  

Learning to Let Go of Formal Authority

How often you lean into the role of architect, bridger, or catalyst? Leaders of today and tomorrow are required to influence differently than they have ever before, and it goes way beyond the confines of your own respective organization.

Today these new realities make it challenging for leaders as the old command-and-control style of leadership doesn’t work. Leaders must encourage and influence others to innovate and create an environment and culture that values collective innovation.

So how can you encourage others to think outside of the box and work more collaboratively inside and outside the organization? It starts with you becoming more comfortable in letting go of the need to control or be at the forefront of driving change and innovation. Share the stage and encourage others to shine their bright light. Your job is to model the right behaviors for them to follow, then get out of the way and let them lead.

What are your thoughts on the concept of Leadership ABCs? How effective are you at exhibiting the right behaviors for your people to follow? We want to hear your feedback and insights on this topic, so feel free to contact me at or or call me at 1.855.871.3374..

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