The sub-topic in a recent research release by Global Consulting Firm, Hay Group, suggests the skills needed in effectively leading in matrixed environments (empathy, conflict management, influence and self-awareness) for those below senior management “proved to be scarce across Hay Group’s database.”

While the primary topic of the research release, “Women Poised to Lead in Matrix Work Environments” is provocative enough for me to have invited an executive from Hay Group to an upcoming episode of The Leadership Caffeine Podcast, it’s this secondary issue that truly lights my fuse and should light yours as well. (And OK, raise your hand if you didn’t intuitively suspect there was a gender difference for the above described attributes.)

If speed, adaptability, learning…and the need to innovate are more than buzzwords and corporate clichés, but in fact are the requirements for success in this fast-moving world, then building cultures, teams and people capable of succeeding in the matrix must be a priority.

This type of “stuff” tends to get lumped into the squishy, touchy-feely bucket by many leaders. That’s too bad, because the need for people who display those skills is critical, and the opportunities for those who cultivate and apply them, nearly endless. 

7 Ideas to Promote Better Matrix Leadership Skills Across the Organization:

1. Build a common vocabulary for the matrix leadership skills. Terms like emotional and social intelligence, empathy and influence are not foreign to most of us, but our definitions and understanding of them are often very different. Ensure that you identify and describe the behaviors that reflect those skills as well.

2. Don’t immediately relegate this cultural change issue of strengthening matrix leadership skills to an HR or Training task. Those groups are enablers and even stakeholders, but the CEO must be the Executive Sponsor and Champion of this culture change, and there’s much more to effecting culture change than simply creating a program or initiative in HR or Training.

3. Senior Executives need to model the behaviors. If Hay’s research applies and if your firm happens to be mostly male at the top, these behaviors/skills may not be on display. We love to mirror those in authority, and if “the do doesn’t match the tell,” talk of a culture change will be just that…followed by laughter and sarcasm.

4. Start small by working with the “integrators” in your organization. Consider working with groups of professionals who serve as integrators…those who primarily work across boundaries and who have the ability to influence broader groups. A great starting point…focus on training and coaching your project managers and work with them to bring approaches, tools and even accountability to their project groups.

5. Land and expand. Leverage the results of smaller and early initiatives to create awareness of and promote good matrix leadership behaviors by building tools (training, coaching models and accountability tools) to support strengthening of this cultural change. Move from the integrators to the managers, supervisors and team leaders.

6. Create heroes and heroic stories out of successful teams and individuals. Nothing supports a culture like heroic successes. Bring visibility to project teams and leaders who create value. This is a powerful means of building institutional memory.

7. Accept that what gets measured gets done. Find ways to assess performance and growth in matrix leadership skills. Expect to experiment here…but get started and keep improving.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The whole premise here is that speed, adaptability, the ability to motivate, inspire and succeed in an ever-changing and complex matrix environment is more and more the way firms and people work and succeed. If the premise holds, then it’s up to us as senior leaders to support the movement away from 19th century management approaches to something that looks and feels right for this squishy, ever-changing world we live and work in.

Oh, and by the way…for those of you waiting for your organizations to support your development here, cut it out. You own your own development. Strengthening your ability to lead in the matrix is a great place to start.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:

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