Berger Leadership Blog

Categories: Leadership

Why effective leaders need organizational intelligence

Dan BergerIf you're a leader who's been able to turn a company around or achieve tremendous growth, you might think you can have the same results anywhere. But that's not necessarily the case. We see it all the time – a successful president/CEO/coach gets recruited to a struggling organization with high hopes, only to fall short of expectations.

Oftentimes in these situations, what the leader lacks is organizational intelligence (OQ). None of our organizations operate the same way. We have different personalities to contend with, different expectations from our board members, members/customers, and other stakeholders. Leaders must recognize the organizational differences and know how to maneuver them to be effective.

A recent Harvard Business Review article outlines the five competencies of strong OQ:

  1. Send messages that reinforce strategy – and minimize other messaging: A key component of leadership is incentivizing employees to do the work needed to achieve organizational goals. How you communicate those goals and employees' contribution to them is critical. Find ways to reward behaviors that get your team closer to the end-line and constantly reinforce the notion that one person's success is good for the entire group.
  2. Foster an understanding, or ethos, of "who we are": Most of our companies are split into various teams. While each team serves a different function, they should all connect and build up to the overarching mission. HBR says an "ethos needs to be summarized in an evocative statement pointing to the behaviors desired in the organization's members. And it needs to be communicated widely." At my organization, our ethos is "providing extreme member service." Everything we do is done through this lens – whether it's advocating on Capitol Hill, designing new education opportunities, or providing superior compliance assistance.
  3. Use "action strategy" rather than consensus building to pursue strategic goals: If you're an outside hire brought into a president/CEO or executive position, you will likely experience some hesitation and skepticism from employees who are more comfortable with the old ways of doing things. In these situations, you might be inclined to take the consensus building route as you try to get people to like you, but that doesn't bring about change. Leaders – especially new ones – must be decisive and implement the processes and culture needed to meet goals.
  4. Rebel from the top: Leaders who have a "my way or the highway" mindset for everything won't get very far. When you come into a president/CEO position, identify the problematic areas that need the most improvement and focus on them – it's important to be aware of which issues are worth fighting for, and which will cause more harm than good. As you demonstrate constructive ways to challenge the status quo, your employees will follow suit and you'll see processes and products improve down the line.
  5. Stage moments of theater that will be told and retold throughout the organization: Taking a principled stance is never easy, but it reverberates throughout your organization and member/customer base. Employees and stakeholders appreciate when leaders take unexpected action that really speaks to organization's values and mission.

Understanding how your organization operates is key to your success. Incorporate your OQ with all your other leadership skills – like intelligence and emotional intelligence – as you navigate bringing effective change and growth to your business.

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P.S. – One of the ways I've been employing my OQ is through my organization's transition from in-person conferences to virtual events amid the coronavirus pandemic. We recognize that our members still need training and strategy development to help them survive and recover from this crisis (re: our ethos of "providing extreme member service"), but there were questions about how successful virtual events could be. By staying focused on the important issues, we've exceeded our expectations and improved with each one. For those credit unions looking for new ways to serve members facing financial hardships, our upcoming Virtual Lending Conference is a must-attend event for those looking to develop and implement growth strategies.

About the Author

B. Dan Berger, President and CEO, NAFCU

Dan BergerB. Dan Berger first joined NAFCU in 2006 and has helped expand the association's reputation into becoming a premiere advocate for the credit union industry.

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