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Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership

Cross-Enterprise Leadership

  • May 4, 2011
Cross-Enterprise Leadership

The financial crisis and the impact it has had on the global economy, Tony Hayward's plea to regain his social life while oil uncontrollably gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, and Toyota's initial silence coupled with the company's attempt to conceal a defect have been the catalyst for senior executives and boards to demonstrate stronger leadership skills. These events have placed leadership development at the forefront of public debate and business education.

A key cornerstone of Ivey's MBA program is the Cross-Enterprise Leadership (CEL) module. This integrated and dynamic module challenges aspiring business leaders to utilize their functional knowledge to analyze real business problems and develop practical solutions. CEL incorporates the abilities to communicate effectively, spearhead and execute change initiatives, as well as, motivate individuals and teams.

Cross-enterprise leaders direct and steward initiatives across continents, countries, companies and business units without losing sight of a company's core competencies and goals. The following are three insights that I gained from the CEL module.

Cross-Enterprise Leaders Lead Everyday ... Not Just During Times of Crisis

Michael McCain demonstrated strong leadership skills during Maple Leaf Food's listeriosis crisis. McCain is consistently commended for swiftly clarifying and revealing the factual situation around the outbreak to the Canadian public. However, McCain did not suddenly develop the leadership skills and moral courage to candidly speak about listeriosis at the time of the outbreak. McCain, like other effective cross-enterprise leaders, honed his leadership skills each and every day over several years.

A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a subject matter excrpert and perform at the highest level. For example, an aspiring classical pianist will diligently practice for at least 10,000 hours before he can master the classical works of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. If you subscribe to the notion that leadership can be learned (evidence supports it can be learned), then it is reasonable to assume similar high levels of leadership skills need to be developed with the same commitment that an aspiring classical pianist, who practices every day, demonstrates. To achieve the elevated skill level in this area, business students should solicit feedback, self-reflect, and commit to enhancing their skills by assuming progressively more challenging projects.

Cross-Enterprise Leaders Have a Deep Understanding of their Business Which Enables Them to Focus on Truly Important Issues

Cross-enterprise leaders must assess several factors when making decisions. These include balancing short-term and long-term goals, optimizing competing demands of multiple stakeholders and quantifying the impact on the organization. Factors including a leader's bounded rationality, dynamic operating environments, time constraints and limited information frequently influence the process.

A key skill of a cross-enterprise leader is the ability to synthesize information and focus on the few key issues while engaging others in the decision making process. At the outbreak of the listeriosis crisis, Michael McCain focused on engaging logistics experts and scientists to determine the incubation time and scale of contamination to determine the scope of the problem to determine the appropriate action. McCain understood the importance of upholding the highest food safety standards to sustain the longevity of the organization and brand. McCain's deep understanding of the food service business and the value McCain's customers place on food safety enabled him to truly focus on the key issues during the crisis.

Similarly, Arkadi Kuhlman demonstrated a deep understanding of the retail bank operating environment and customer needs when he started ING. ING provides a distinctive value proposition to retail bank customers, which has been instrumental to ING's success. Cross-enterprise leaders need to truly understand the environments that their businesses operate in and their customer requirements, to make effective decisions.

Cross-Enterprise Leaders Care About the Success of Their Teams

Each of the cross-enterprise leaders we studied cared about the success of the teams and organizations they were leading. Michael "Pinball" Clemons and General Rick Hillier were two guest speakers who addressed our class. Both individuals are genuinely passionate about the success of the teams that they lead. Both Clemons and Hillier showed their respective teams that they personally cared about their teams' success and this inspired their teams to strive for excellence. Earlier in their careers, they were in the same position as those they were leading and could easily relate to their teams. Clemons is a former CFL superstar quarterback and accustomed to being the underdog, given his relatively small stature. Hillier joined the Canadian Armed Forces as soon as he was eligible. Hillier served and later commanded the Royal Canadian Dragons in Canada and Germany. Both leaders were able to build followership because they were accessible and vulnerable to those they led.

Building followership is an important element of CEL. Cross-enterprise leaders can only effectively lead if they can influence, persuade and motivate others. This involves consistently demonstrating enthusiasm, a positive attitude, laser focus on achieving team goals and compassion for others. It was evident that Clemens and Hillier consistently displayed these attributes.


CEL is not a business fad. CEL is essential for the long-term success of a business. Business leaders must adopt a CEL disposition and mindset to achieve and sustain a company's full potential. Although CEL skills are paramount during times of crisis, these skills must be honed every day. Cross-enterprise leaders must have a deep understanding of the business environments they operate in and care about the success of their teams.