As we climb the leadership ladder, we tend to forget the things we needed to hear from our leaders. Sometimes it's as simple as being seen and heard.
In my experience, one of the most challenging developments a leader faces in their career is the shift from managing, to leading. It is the expansion from merely controlling and directing their work, and the work of others, to becoming a figure who holds influence within their organisation.
It may sound straightforward but holding power does not necessarily equate to holding influence. To accomplish this feat, leaders must be willing to make a significant change in both their mindset and their identity. And, it takes courage to recognise and implement these changes because, as human beings, we tend to get comfortable with the status quo.
In Marshall Goldsmith’s words, “What got you here will not get you there”, his quote summarises this article’s aims – to help leaders determine whether they have the mindset and courage to lead at the next level.
The model below illustrates the journey we all make as we develop our leadership practice and capabilities.
Outstanding leadership is as much about remembering as it is about developing the skills and capacities needed to lead at the next level. Through my years of executive coaching, facilitation and training as well as teaching Executive Education programmes at Imperial College Business School, one of the things I’ve noticed is that when we get promoted, we also get amnesia. We forget what poor leadership looks like and, more importantly, forget the skills attributes and behaviours of exceptional leadership we have experienced and admired in our own careers.
Most of us have created an almost unattainable idea of what a great leader should be, and when we get promoted to a leadership position, we then bend ourselves out of shape to match it. Our mindset holds the notion that we as leaders should be Superhuman, we should have all the answers, and we must control and direct the heck out of everything. We forget that when we were being managed, all we asked for was to be seen, understood, and allowed to do our very best work.
One of the most important decisions you can make, as a leader, is to believe that you are okay. That what you bring to your leadership is unique and powerful. It takes courage to become comfortable with who you are at your core, to be authentic in the way you lead, to acknowledge your skillset and readily admit your limitations.
The answer is not to be master of all things, but to amass and inspire a team who can collaboratively, competently tackle every challenge put to them. One of my favourite leaders, Jim Whitehurst, President of IBM, once said; “As I have developed as a leader, I’ve come to realise that my fundamental role is to create a context for people to achieve far more than they thought was possible.”
To me, Jim’s quotation perfectly summarises the mindset shift and the courage it takes to expand from being in control to becoming the conductor of the orchestra. By making this shift, leaders can create the conditions to significantly multiply their impact through the abilities of the people around them rather than becoming the bottleneck for all of that potential talent.
And once we have learned to accept the reality of the leaders we are, what other shifts, capacities, practices, and habits should we adopt to become the leaders we wish to be?
Shift Your Mindset and Identity
Decide that it is no longer about you, your expertise, and your ability to control and direct operations. Your job has now become about creating the context, environment and culture for your people to do their best work.
Be courageous in building the capacity and bench strength around you for the wider organisation to succeed.
For some of us this is a scary proposition. We have highly talented people around us – what if they overtake us in the organisation? However, in my experience this is a false concern, what happens is that as the tide rises, all ships rise with it.
Be courageous in accepting that being you is okay, and that you remember what outstanding leadership is.
Put yourself into your people’s shoes by answering the question; “how would I like to be led?”
This trust in yourself is fundamental to having the confidence and self-belief that will be attractive to the people you are leading and, in turn, build their confidence and belief in you.
Take an enterprise view
Build the capacity to dance between detail and the big picture. One of the fundamental skills a leader needs to acquire is to be able to dig into the detail when necessary and at the same time, hold a panoramic view of the entire system, so that you can understand and appreciate how the individual efforts of those within the organisation can fit together.
Your role as a leader is not to take everything on your own shoulders but to provide value to the enterprise by building excellent relationships between key stakeholders, ensuring cohesion, creativity and innovation can flourish and deliver the organisation’s mission.
Listen to understand
Very often I work with new leaders who are incredibly keen to make a significant impact quickly. They do this by being assertive and tend to push their ideas and agendas vigorously.
In doing so, they often listen to win - to interrupt and make themselves heard.
One of the critical skills leaders need to develop is the ability to listen to understand, to put themselves in the other person shoes and demonstrate they have heard and appreciated different perspectives.
Listening to understand does not necessarily mean that you have to agree with what you hear, but doing so creates the conditions for your own ideas to be better heard by others, and for even better solutions and possibilities to be made out of the different perspectives you’ve gained, helping you to become even more influential as a result.
Become a Coach
One of the best ways to multiply your impact through others is to become an outstanding coach.
If you accept the idea that at the higher levels of leadership your job is to create the conditions and context for people to do their very best work, this is a fundamental capacity for you to develop.
Not only does coaching allow you to magnify your impact, it is the foundation for cultivating greater levels of engagement, creativity, innovation and long-term sustainable results.
By fully harnessing and developing the potential of your people you, as a leader, create the culture and capacity for your organisation to be able to meet the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity we face daily, and overcome it. This, is what next-level looks like.
Frans Campher is a seasoned and sought professional coach, trainer, and facilitator. He is also Programme Co-Director the “Leadership in a Technology Driven World” Executive Education programme at Imperial College Business School.
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