Plenty of data shows that creative, flexible leaders succeed at a higher rate than reactive, defensive leaders–especially in times of disruption and uncertainty. The data, too, reveals what Dave Osh, CEO of the leadership-advisory firm Varlinx, called “a sad reality”: 80% of leaders are in the reactive stage, while only 20% are in the creative stage.
“I made it my mission to help organizations make the one big shift from reactive to creative,” he explained of his company, which focuses on high growth in the midst of high-complexity work environments. “Leadership effectiveness is your one competitive advantage that no one can copy.”
In this shift from reactionary to creativity, Osh asserted that HR leaders play a crucial role. He outlined the steps a company can take to make this transition, and why HR is so essential to the process, in a presentation during From Day One’s September virtual conference on managing change and building resilience.
The transition requires three steps. The first is to assess your leadership effectiveness, the second is to decide an individual and collective “one big shift” the leadership team will take, and third is to make that shift with concurrent coaching.
“Leadership is contextual,” as Osh put it. To outline the ways to assess specific leadership effectiveness, he offered the Leadership Circle case study of Jeff Hilzinger, the CEO of Marlin Capital Solutions, a small-business lender based in New Jersey. Hilzinger’s leadership effectiveness regresses creative to reactive between 2007 and 2010, said Osh. Why? Hilzinger’s promotion from COO to CEO raised the stakes, and the company struggled to perform in the Great Recession turmoil.
To make a change back to creative leadership, Hilzinger decided on his “one big shift”: to align the executive team to be more collaborative and less critical. “He scaled his leadership effectiveness from the 30th to the 95th percentile over the following seven years,” Osh said. “Assessing, tracking and boosting leadership effectiveness was the secret sauce of building an effective leadership team.”
Another Leadership Circle case study is Accent Energy, an Ohio-based power utility. Departments worked in silos, data wasn’t shared, and communication was lacking–all issues that slowed the company's growth, Osh said. “The leadership team decided to dissolve the silos within the organization,” he said. “They chose the reactive/creative framework as a common language for alignment.”
Once a company has committed to its “one big shift,” it should follow through with concurrent coaching. Osh explains this as a hybrid of executive and team coaching that addresses needs of the entire team. “Concurrent coaching is super effective because it optimizes the team for the team members, and it optimizes the team members for the team.”
A reactive team works independently–much like a golf team, which performs without a coach– and a creative team works interdependently, more like a basketball team working closely with its coach. As an example, Osh pointed to legendary coach and business executive, Bill Campbell, whose leadership style was chronicled in Trillion Dollar Coach.
Osh has found that this three-step process results in companies that are more resilient and able to take on unexpected changes like the COVID-19 pandemic. Creative leaders listen closely to their employees, are flexible with strategies and tactics, and aren’t afraid of change. Reactive leaders, on the other hand, can further cut off collaboration, insights or critique when the company needs it most.
The process offers a new role for HR leaders to spearhead and support a holistic leadership change that results in a more effective, collaborative and healthy workplace for all.
“You, the HR leader, finally have the power to enable your organization to reach to the next level,” Osh emphasized. “You now have the framework to make a ripple effect of high-performance across the organization and beyond.”
Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.