Smart Growth Leadership

The new normal

The recession left its mark on markets and workforces alike. We now, states the 2014 Third-Party Logistics Study, face a “new normal” in which organisations require Smart Growth Leaders who must be accomplished in several dimensions of agility and maturity. As a result, we need to think differently about how we deal with leadership and talent planning in the workplace. 

The report notes: “Globally, markets are shifting out of an easy growth phase, during which demand generally outstripped supply, customers were willing to spend or invest, and industry’s primary challenge was increasing capacity.”

This scenario calls for a different type of innovation, which is too often thought of only in terms of products and services.



The Korn/Ferry Institute, originators of the term Smart Growth Leadership defines these leaders as those combining leadership maturity with high learning agility. Their report titled Cultivating ‘smart growth’ leaders - the perspectives of a CFO to outpace the global economy comments that such people “have the ability to operate effectively at the appropriate level of complexity, ambiguity and scale coupled with facility in handling disruption, speed and volatility.”

In other words, Smart Growth Leaders drive growth, even when disruptive change is high and demand is weak. That report highlights: “He or she is more likely to cheat death by reinventing the business models, entering or creating new markets, or leaving old paradigms.”
They are also able to deal with an environment in which there are no givens anymore, yet there is much to deal with in terms of loss.

The scenario is simply this. Today there is less consumer spending because of lower earning power and all too often, job losses experienced by many. As a result, there is more uncertainty being felt by businesses, resulting in less spending and a focus on costs over growth. Under such conditions, emerging markets are seeing slower growth.



Cheating death with smart growth talent

There is a secret to cheating death in business but it can and should be shared. In short, the right leaders need to be brought on board and at the same time, leadership strength needs to be developed from within an organisation. Smart Growth Leadership is an enabler of such success.
The approach to cultivating a culture of
Smart Growth Leadership was created by the Korn/Ferry Institute. It states that such leaders possess the leadership and operational skills necessary to grow the top and bottom line of a business in an extremely challenging environment, where demand conditions are weak and disruptive change is high.”

This new breed of effective leaders, says the Institute “need to possess advanced abilities in both maturity and agility to deliver optimal smart growth performance.”

This period of complexity and uncertainty — in markets, finance and currency — will require leaders to think and act differently to unearth growth where none is evident. Leaders’ shrewdness about growth will make a difference in corporate performance.

Leaders – both current and those coming up the corporate ranks – must be able to maneuver cross functionally. More than ever, they need depth and width of experience to deliver growth beyond GDP and/or sector output. In other words, to be a Smart Growth Leader you need to know the business in a hands-on way.

Businesses must make a mental leap, moving away from the notion that growth exists in certain markets and toward the idea that growth emerges from certain leaders. Organizations according to the Institute must look within for a leadership team that can carve out growth where others may see no hope. This view makes leadership more complicated and nuanced, but also more powerful: It holds that leaders, not market conditions, define the limits of growth.

But which characteristics indicate smart-growth readiness, exactly? Common competencies of the Smart Growth Leader, across both areas, are defined in the report in the following diagram.


Two vital questions arise out of this scenario: How do we know whether we have Smart Growth leaders in our organisation? And, what can we do to enhance the pool of Smart Growth leaders?

In response, the Institute developed a framework that enables senior executives to analyse the Smart Growth Capacity of their organisations. By hiring and promoting leaders with high agility and maturity, and developing those capabilities in their current executives, companies can position themselves to thrive through this period of slowing growth. 
Developing smart growth leadership that triggers profit 

Smart Growth Leaders, described as ‘highly socially flexible’ may sound too good to be true but as far as the skills needed to earn a deep trust from the workforce, such traits and behaviours go a long way to bolster profit as highlighted in the previous posts.

According to a Korn/Ferry leadership assessment study of 1,733 vice presidents and C-suite executives at thirty-six multinational companies, organisations with a 10% improvement in Smart Growth Capacity (SGC) are typically associated with a 15% improvement in profit margin. (J.L Lewis, 2013)

Even the most naturally talented leaders are developed in a purposeful manner. Here are some clues through which to identify Smart Growth leaders in your organisation and points to consider when developing such a leadership mindset.

The Korn/Ferry Institute report titled Leadership that drives profits describes Smart Growth executives as “those whose experiences, emotional makeup, interpersonal skills, and social behavior facilitate success.” It notes:

·         “They motivate and get the most from themselves and others.

·         They effectively navigate the diverse networks and multiple stakeholders within their organization.

·         They identify and use information effectively – often through social channels.

·         Colleagues tend to endorse them as appropriately empathetic and highly effective in both listening and communicating.

·         They relate well to diverse individuals and can delegate and manage work effectively.

·         They tend to be particularly inspirational.

·         They avoid the appearance and trappings of self-centeredness.”

It goes on to explain, “Socially flexible executives are open to diverse points of view, self-aware, empathic, and patient. Interpersonally attuned, they skilfully influence and motivate others.

Learning agile executives are curious, creative, and resourceful. They thrive in new, complex, and ambiguous situations, get to the essence of any problem, and inspire others to embrace change and achieve results.”

In order to enhance our pool of these effective leaders, it makes sense that leadership development revolves around nurturing such skills in employee engagement and people management.

A first step would be to assess the leadership psychology within the organisation, followed by leadership development that is tailored to a company. There is no one-size-fits-all leadership development programme and there are many best practice examples available and thought leaders to engage with. With this in mind, A+ finds merit in the Korn/Ferry approach to leadership development, which has four pillars:

·         Design in context: Make development relevant to business strategy, culture, and mission.

·         Develop the whole person: focus on what leaders need to be and do by building characteristics that are universally crucial and developing specific competencies based on context.

·         Treat development of leaders as a journey: learning and application occur in context with an intensity and time frame that match the strategy. 

·         Service is fundamental: Leadership at its core is about service to others. The opportunity to contribute beyond one’s self activates inherent leadership capability and enables people to experience the power and impact of true leadership. 


Why then is Smart Growth Leadership an important move towards business success?
I would say definitively because it develops leaders who are attuned to the goal to encourage every person in an organisation to challenge him or herself personally and professionally. This connection is what is needed to close the circle of organisational delivery, carrying it through from vision to execution.
Download the Korn/Ferry Institute Leadership that drives profits report


Contributed by: Abrie de Swardt, Abrie de Swardt & aSSOCIATES