No one can truly prepare you for your first senior executive role. There are university degrees, management courses, training programmes, mentors and leadership models but nothing can replace the direct experience gained in post.
The truth is that successful leaders are not always the best students with the highest grades, boasting of the ability to retain and recall data from huge mental filing cabinets, as impressive as that can be. Leadership demands something far more subtle than pure IQ and memory; it’s our ability to acknowledge what we don’t know and being brave enough to confront such shortcomings and address them to furnish the management kit bag.
Being self aware is not second nature for many of us, especially those who’ve fought to permanently present their best possible “self” to colleagues and managers. In these situations the sense of “self” is lost in efforts to reach the next step of the career ladder and avoid being overlooked as a “risk” to the organisation.
What is a risk, is an executive covering any shortcomings through force of personality, aggressive or defensive manner, use of others without attributing their efforts or deflection and insinuation of a colleague’s weakness.
When promoted to a position of responsibility to manage others its important to establish trust and respect at the earliest possible opportunity. Demonstrating a “human” side to your personality, being caring and supportive, works alongside clarity of purpose and a shared vision. What can also help build trust is an ability to understand the motivations and needs of your team and how you build positive relationships through acknowledging that you do not have all the answers.
Just reflect for a moment and consider the bosses who impressed you. Who stood out, made a difference and deserves that place in your management hall of fame? Now think about why they are elevated above others and how they made you feel.
What did those inspirational bosses do that others failed to? How accessible were they and how did they communicate?
In my experience, those outstanding managers and leaders were those who had an inner self confidence not borne out of arrogance but a genuine understanding of who they were and what they stood for. They often aligned their own values to those of the organisation to achieve specific objectives. Being collaborative, caring and focussed, aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their team and able to find ways to deliver without taking unnecessary advantage of the goodwill of staff.
As highlighted above, the foundation for such a positive approach rests with an understanding of self. Not an obvious path, but it can prove very helpful to study our own “makeup” before embarking on the challenge of managing teams. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) are two examples of tried and tested methodologies that can help us gain a greater knowledge of our personality, preferences, behaviours and potential mental roadblocks at both conscious and unconscious levels.
One positive outcome of gaining such insights could be in shaping the content and method of your communications as well as identifying the best platforms to achieve your greatest reach and engagement.
Whilst stopping short of advocating all CEOs, Directors or Managers become therapists there is a distinct advantage in delving into these areas. In our ever faster paced and complex working lives, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand the organ that makes us all tick. Starting with our own is the best way to learn about how others may think.
Ever-changing expectations, evolving technologies and endless complexities of people management means the journey to self awareness and successful leadership can be challenging but at the same time immensely rewarding.