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Lorraine Stomski and Jessie Leisten: What 3 Qualities Do Top Companies Have in Common?

In today’s fast-changing global economy, top companies can stay above the fray through an unrelenting focus on talent and leadership.


Organizations continue to reel from the aftershocks of the global recession. Economic, technological, regulatory and social challenges across global boundaries form a “perfect storm” of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. How can companies navigate this and still stay on top?

We find there are three distinct attributes that make up the DNA of the leaders at top companies:

  1. Top companies have self-aware leaders who exhibit tremendous understanding of their personal strengths as well as weaknesses, and use this information to become more effective leaders of others.
  2. Top companies build resilience in their leaders through stretch experiences, encouragement and support for taking risks in innovating, learning from failing quickly, and exposure to multiple perspectives and ideas to develop the capabilities that help the organization meet fast-changing business challenges.
  3. Top companies are intentional about identifying and building engaged leaders who connect strongly with their people, who are both mobilizers and stabilizers, and who are ambidextrous influencers who can appeal as needed to both minds and hearts.

The Power of Self-Awareness
Top companies fully comprehend that a leader’s ability to recognize and understand his or her own strengths and weaknesses — and fill those lingering leadership gaps — is an integral component of nimbly leading in an ever-shifting global economy.

Self-awareness is the wrapper that surrounds countless practices top companies champion for capability development, adaptability, diversity and inclusion, and internal mobility. It is embedded in the infrastructure and culture, and starts at the front line. Self-awareness forms the basis for all competencies necessary to lead successful teams in today’s challenging environment.

Self-aware leaders are on a continuous journey of discovery, seeking clarity on their own behaviors and how their actions impact peers, customers and the bottom line. They ask questions like:

  • How can I leverage my team to help fill my own gaps?
  • How am I leading through change?
  • Am I celebrating others’ success more than my own?
  • When I fail or lose step, how open am I to my own faults?
  • Am I really appreciating the power of inclusion and the importance of differences and diversity?
  • Am I letting great talent flourish, or holding others back to protect my own interests as a leader?

The Impact of Resilience
Operating successfully on a global scale requires decisiveness and action at an accelerated pace. A hallmark of top companies is their willingness to try new things and accept the notion of “failing fast.”

At the base of it, top companies understand the importance of building resilience through stretching people in challenging assignments, encouraging adaptability to changing market demands and cultivating a culture where appropriate risk taking is valued and supported.

Top companies know that when leaders build resilience, the organization benefits from an inclusive culture where diverse perspectives are heard and considered. They know that resilient leaders are able to act with greater fluidity and confidence as they navigate new frontiers — and can recover quickly and learn from setbacks to build on their business success.

The Aon Hewitt Top Companies for Leaders seek leaders who can:

  • Recognize mistakes and learn from them.
  • Adapt well and articulate a clear vision for the future.
  • Dig into their surroundings to uncover what’s driving challenges.
  • Collaborate and build a sense of optimism.
  • Identify the importance of leading people.

The Shape of Engaging Leadership
Beyond attempting to achieve stellar employee engagement, top companies know that engaging leaders are necessary for driving their businesses forward in today’s complex environment. They see engaging leaders across all ranks — fostering and building an engaged workforce that builds the organization’s employment brand, exerts high levels of discretionary effort and skill and remains with the organization to provide stability for core capabilities. These leaders live and infuse their teams with purpose, commitment and authenticity.

Engaging leaders are:

  • Mobilizers, who embrace change and are ever alert for ways to transform people, practices, policies and processes to exploit opportunities for enhancing organizational effectiveness.
  • Stabilizers, who can calm the waters, maintain optimism and overcome skepticism in the face of the stresses that accompany required change.
  • Ambidextrous, who — beyond multitasking — can appeal to both the rational and emotional sides of stakeholders, finding solutions that benefit all involved.

Engaging leaders are pervasive throughout top companies, giving these businesses the eyes and ears needed to drive their strategies and forecast the road bumps that could break their business. These mobilizers articulate their organization’s larger picture in a way that draws followership, motivates teams to become part of that success and provides the safe and purpose-driven environment that maintains engagement — even during the upheavals of large-scale transformation that characterize the global economy.

Overall, we have found that becoming a top company requires the building — over time and with sustained focus and discipline — of a culture that embodies the requirements for building talent in an ever-changing landscape. It means getting key practices right, while continuing to raise the bar to anticipate what’s around the bend.

Top companies know the power of a robust pipeline of resilient, engaged and self-aware leaders to generate stronger financial performance, create greater sustainability against future challenges and sow a stellar internal and external reputation that continues to attract and retain the very best talent.

Ultimately, companies are only as good as their leaders. Top companies recognize it.

(Top image: Courtesy of Thinkstock)

Lorraine Stomski, a Partner with Aon Hewitt, is the Global Lead for Assessment and Leadership.






Jessie Leisten is a Talent Consultant in Aon Hewitt’s Talent & Rewards Consulting Practice.





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