Under this practice, leaders develop strategies, make and execute plans and decisions, organize the work of others, and guide efforts toward predicted results. Across all four organizational levels (no direct reports, frontline managers, mid-level managers, and business unit managers), business was the highest rated zone in terms of importance. “Business remains the foundation of everything—nothing else matters in the business world if you’re not generating a profit,” says Perrin, “But what’s been happening over the past number of years is an excessive focus on business simply turning in a profit at the expense of everything else, namely the six zones we’ve identified.”
Leaders connect with others on a human level. This means reading a range of emotions in others and responding appropriately, adapting to the leadership needs of different groups, helping others to resolve work–life balance issues, making a daily effort to inspire the trust of customers and colleagues, and communicating well with customers and colleagues at all levels. David A. Thomas, a professor of business administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, has researched executive development, cultural diversity in organizations and leadership, and organizational change. He notes that today’s leaders will have to accommodate people’s identities and perspectives in the workplace, such as those who wish to honor their religious practices during the day, or those insisting on a work schedule that allows them to be home more with family. “The old assumptions where you leave all that stuff at the door are being blown away because [people’s identities] are important to them, and they take it with them into the workplace.”
In this zone, leaders not only offer and execute practical ideas, but they also help others do the same by creating a climate in which innovation can thrive.
Leaders must assess their own motives, beliefs, attitudes, and actions. They ask questions like, “How can I make sure my own blind spots and biases don’t cause me to make poor decisions?” Though executives rate reflection lower compared to the aforementioned practices, the study states leaders who are strong in the reflection zone are better equipped to leverage their strengths and reduce liabilities in other zones. “What usually happens during periods of great economic prosperity is that leaders think, ‘Whoa, we’re making money, so we must know what we’re doing. Therefore there’s no reason to question what we’re doing.’ And because of that lack of reflection, or lack of ability to see the long-term impact of short-term decisions, we’ve gotten ourselves into trouble,” cautions Perrin.
Leaders apply the principles of fairness, respect, and the greater good to balance individual and group welfare.
Leaders must value and leverage human differences including gender, ethnicity, age, nationality, beliefs, and work styles. This practice was rated as the least important across all organizational levels. According to the study, organizations with wide global operations identify diversity as their most pressing challenge, specifically, “creating virtual workplace structures” and “succeeding with mergers and acquisitions.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.