What Got You Here – Won’t Get You There

As I contemplate this year past at 3am in the morning – when I invariably turn myself inside out – it has been a roller coaster ride. A journey of happiness and joy, satisfaction, disappointment, excitement, disillusionment, re-grouping,  acceptance, learning,coming up for air.

Its always intense. Transformations occur at a point of time when you change from one thing to another – heavy duty.  Its disruptive.

And I have always said that you learn most about yourself as a leader, that you grow personally and professionally through the toughest of times and where you are brutally honest with yourself.

Hold a mirror up and look at what looks back at you. Do you like what you see? Do you sleep soundly at night?

And as a leader I believe it is a necessity that you do endure adversity and learn from it.

So my last article for 2015 is about leadership

Dan Rock (Leadership Freak) re-tells a story in a Leader You Can’t Live Without . He’s in conversation with a board member and shares his view that truly successful leaders will constantly develop their replacement. The board member in question is shocked. He holds a common belief that leaders create value by making themselves indispensable.

And perhaps the greatest test of leadership is what happens when you’re gone.

I agree with Dan – an indispensable leader – leads a dependent organisation.

And a great leader leaves the team and the organisation with higher capability and in a better place.  And these leaders can be quiet leaders and are often overlooked.

Susan Cain in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” talked about how our traditional bias towards extroverted leaders (dynamic, showy ‘alpha’ leaders) has got to the point that excellent introverted leaders are increasingly overlooked.

She noted some real disadvantages regarding the alpha extrovert profile – they may be infectious, but their confidence is often wrong because they will often hold forth very confidently on the basis – that they have the answer – that they alone know best.

  “These leaders can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way and allowing workers to lapse into passivity,”

And underneath – these leaders only really care for themselves, their own advancement and making a mark.

I know – because I used to be one of them.

This is what I thought leadership was – really! I was rewarded for it and thought I was successful. I actually believed in my own hype.

Until a previous manager  in a Telco , lets call her Claire –  pointed this truth out to me – those characteristics – that I did not want to see and said simply;

“What got you here will not get you there”

And  this was the catalyst for the most significant change in my own leadership journey.  I do still wrestle with some of those characteristics and if anything have now become that introverted leader.

This can seem a dichotomy or a contradiction to others and has on occasion caused me to be misunderstood. I do aspire to quiet leadership.

And if I sit back, its because I am striving to listen. If I am not offering my own opinion as loudly as others – its because I am wanting to elicit the opinions of others. If I don’t tell you what to do – its not because I lack leadership – but I knowyou already know the answer.

I suspect I now need to be more vocal in my own leadership stand.

Enough about me  – lets talk about you.

Perhaps you’ve been feeling less confident in your leadership ability, maybe the team isn’t really humming, perhaps you’re feeling a bit isolated and lonely or you’ve been having conflict with peers and your team. Perhaps you have flashes of rare insight. Perhaps you feel no one really tells you the real story?

Perhaps you know deep down that it’s all about you.

And these are all signs that what got you here won’t get you there. Do you recognise yourself?

In a similar vein Simon Sinek in Why Leaders Eat Last says there are many leaders who aim to raise their own status without really fulfilling their responsibilities as leaders.

While we may achieve alpha status and rise in the ranks, possess talents and strengths that could earmark us for alpha status, we really only become true leaders when we accept the responsibility to protect those in our care.

Inwardly focused and intoxicated by ‘success’ some of us rising leaders don’t know or forget that our responsibility as a leader is to our people. Sadly this describes individuals and senior leadership teams in many organisations.

But it’s not all of our own fault – Steve Denning says the reality is that in traditional organisations the world of “management” is vertical. Its mind-set is vertical. Power trickles down. Big leaders appoint little leaders. Compensation correlates with rank. Tasks are assigned. Managers assess performance. Rules tightly circumscribe discretion.

Some of us know nothing else

And some of us know better

This type of company with this leadership have a hard time with innovation and they are being systemically disrupted by new players. And it’s economy—the Traditional Economy—is in decline. In stark contrast the world of start-ups and the big players in the new economy is horizontal. Vend, Xero, Uber, Spotify you know them.

Agile working, new economy working or whatever you want to call it – has spread rapidly and has established some footholds in most of the tall vertical organizations. Its benefits are obvious after all. Don’t all we all want to be more successful than we currently are?

I remain unconvinced about a traditional organisations understanding of what the true meaning of transformation to this new economy working really entails.

Because this transformation – at its essence is first and foremost behavioural. It requires every single leader in that organisation to give up old constructs of what leadership is, to reject the notion of vertical hierarchy and individual success.

This new mindset is horizontal, its purpose is to delight customers. Making money is the result, not the goal of its activities. Its focus is on continuous innovation. Its dynamic is enablement, rather than control. Its communications are horizontal collaborative conversations. And we aspire to liberate the full talents and capacities of those doing the work.

As we all take a hard earned break over the holiday season – will you reflect on your leadership stand?

Do you feel you’re a better person and your team is better because of it?

Do you really know what your team really thinks and say’s about you?

Perhaps the most important question is, what defines your character that communicates your value of people?

The answer to that question is essentially in your character and it will determine the level of ‘motivated trust’ that people will give you.

And as Dan Rock states

Leaders – who aren’t creating leaders – corrode the future. An indispensable leader leads a dependent organization

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