Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Leading leaders; part 2

In my last blog I listed three elements critical to success as you move from leading staff members to leading other leaders.  This blog will add three more for your consideration.

1.  Cultivate a relationship with a trusted mentor.  This person can come from a variety of sources; from a former boss to a professional coach/consultant.  For the relationship to be effective it must consist of the following:

Your mentor must be willing to be honest about your strengths and brutally honest about your weaknesses.  It will serve no purpose to your development if all you receive are platitudes.  While we build on our strengths we grow as we improve our weaknesses.  Without this commitment from both parties, the mentoring is little more than an occasional nice lunch.

Your mentor must have gone before you in terms of experience.  Asking a peer to mentor is the definition of the 'blind leading the blind'.  Don't shy away from approaching someone that you may consider 'out of your league' as you may be surprised at how willing others are to help out someone who genuinely wants to improve.

Finally, your mentor must be willing to make the first call and to hold you accountable.  Many people are more than willing to share an opinion when asked.  Very few will be proactive when it is primarily to someone else's benefit.  You need someone who will care about you.

Thanks to Thom Leiper for reminding me of this critical element.

2.   These two ingredients are common to every successful leader...honesty and integrity.  The leaders on your team will be always be looking to you as the standard bearer.  That is, to what degree are you willing to compromise either characteristic in order to succeed.  Do you have a set of principles which are inviolable?  Or do you function on the basis of situational ethics? 

If it is the former, your leaders will always know how you will respond and what they can expect. Accordingly they can operate with confidence because the ground rules have been set. 

If it is the latter, expect hesitancy, awkwardness, even distrust because they cannot be certain that the rules have not shifted. 

Be consistently honest and operate with integrity.  It always pays dividends.


No situation is perfect; you will always encounter difficulties, failure and disappointment.  For many, these obstacles seem insurmountable.  For the inspirational leader they are opportunities.

I am not advocating a "Pollyanna" attitude towards these times.  Indeed, the more realistic you are in your analysis of the problem, the more likely you are to work towards an achievable solution.

Accordingly, it is your responsibility to keep the team focused and engaged.  By always looking at the glass as half full you inspire others to share your view.  It is not always easy, but it is always vitally important.

I am sure that there is a legitimate argument to be made to include other characteristics. But for me, these are the top six.  If you can master them, or at least acknowledge them and work towards mastery, then you have taken the largest steps necessary to lead leaders.  Best of luck.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Are you ready to lead leaders

Your first leadership role likely moved you from a group of peers on the shop floor or other sales associates and into the role of leading a small group.  For the most part this was a position in which you supervised or managed a team by using the skill sets and knowledge that made you effective when you were a team member, not their team leader.

Continued success in this new role allowed you to broaden the scope of your responsibilities.  Generally speaking this meant you were able to juggle more balls at the same time as opposed to learning a new trick.  There is nothing wrong with this definition of your abilities because it is more than most people ever accomplish or even want to attempt.

The bigger test comes when you are expected to lead other leaders as this presents an entirely new and different challenge.  Whereas the first role meant directing others who, for the most part, had no aspiration to leadership, the position of leading other leaders requires you to work with a group of alpha personalities, some of whom aspired to the role you now hold.

I want to look at these challenges in the next 2 or 3 blogs as it is critically important that you understand and appropriate some facts of this leadership responsibility.

 1.  It is not unusual to feel somewhat overwhelmed in the initial stages.  This is normal and natural unless you have held similar roles in other employment situations.  But rather than doubt your abilities, keep this touchstone close by; others have the confidence that you can do the job because they appointed you.  Sometimes it is the experience and wisdom of others who recognize latent potential long before we see it in ourselves.  So continue to work in the same manner of confident expectation that characterized your prior position.  It is a source of strength that got you to where you are now and it is something that you should build on rather than distrust.

2.  Trust and respect the competencies of your leadership staff.  While they may have been passed over for the role that you have, the same decision maker who has elevated you also chose the keep them in their positions. There must be good reasons for their success, so identify their strengths and use them to the mutual advantage of the team.  Don't hesitate to ask your leader what they see in these individuals - strengths and weaknesses - as this will shorten the learning curve and help to provide you perspective (up and down...ask me if you don't understand).

3.  In an earlier posting I spoke about the need to create an environment in which failure is an acceptable option as long as the failure is not fatal to the business and provided that the value of that which is learned exceeds the cost of the failure.  However it is important to recognize that the tolerance for failure decreases exponentially as you move up the ladder. The anticipation is that your skills and experience - and those of your leadership team - should produce more well considered decisions that are not experiments to see what happens but rather efforts which confirm expectations.  Accordingly, as the leader of leaders, this truth must be communicated in a much more sophisticated manner but one in which calculated risk taking is still encouraged as that is often what differentiates the best companies from the rest of the pack.

Leadership is not for everyone.  Leading leaders is for fewer still.  But when you do it right, the level of satisfaction makes all the efforts worthwhile.  Next time I will offer more insights to help you plot your route to success.


Friday, 3 October 2014

Happy Anniversary

Without any announcement, the caller wished me 'Happy Anniversary'.  It was a voice I recognized from the past but initially I was unable to match it with a face.  Sensing my hesitancy, the caller identified himself and then explained that it was an anniversary with much more significance to him than to me.

Apparently it was ten years to the day since I had terminated his employment in the company.  He just wanted to say thank you...

He went on to say that he had recognized subconsciously that he was no longer happy in his work nor was he productive.  But in the absence of someone else confirming it, he did not know how to move on.  When he was let go he felt a freedom that he had been longing.  He used his separation allowance to fund a new business which was now a prosperous ten years old.  So 'Happy Anniversary' was very appropriate.

This was not the first, or last, kind of response that I have had from others that I have fired.  One individual told me that they could never have foreseen the opportunity to go back to school to pursue the career in public relations that they had always dreamt of.  Another person told me that  getting into a sports career was beyond their expectations until I told them that their services were no longer required.

The point of these examples is this.  All companies, regardless of their size, are organic entities.  Things change as market demand, competition, and a host of other factors require a company to make appropriate responses in order to remain viable.  Unfortunately the skill sets of individuals do not tend to change as quickly.  Over time some become the proverbial square peg trying to fit in a round hole.  When that happens it creates friction and dissatisfaction which manifests itself in the form of poor productivity.  Sometimes training allows for an improved fit.  But just as often, the person needs to find a new role, usually outside the company.  Putting off the decision is simply a vote for the status quo.  It only delays the inevitable. So ACT like a leader!

There is always 'life after' any employment situation.  As the leader it is your responsibility to identify those who are struggling with the circumstances and then to act appropriately.  This is not a 'with cause' type of separation.  You must respect the contributions which the individual has made in the past and their inability to move on in the present.  If you remember this short motto it will be easier for all involved.  ' the right thing for the company; do the right thing by the employee...'

In most instances new doors open with opportunities that could never have been imagined.  Who knows, you might even receive your own 'happy anniversary' call!