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I recently offered my professional services pro-Bono to help a local Rotary Club co-facilitate a 3 day leadership training program. There and in so many recent coaching sessions we professionally dealt with this topic of transition into leadership from various career stages. And so I thought it useful to share key learnings from that with you today.
So what is leadership and what’s this “transition thing”?
I like to differentiate four levels of leadership:
- Leadership of Self (attitudes, values, behaviours patterns, obstacles, style, preferences etc)
- Leadership of outcomes (orchestrating activities into results)
- Leadership of others
- Leadership and development of other leaders.
Each builds on the former. Each requires a “transition” from the one to the other. A shift that is usually accompanied by a recognition by ourselves and by others that we are “ready” and (hopefully often) supplemented by the required training, coaching and mentoring.
Management Or Leadership?
And depending what the role is, there can be confusion between what is management and what is leadership. To me management is when an authority to act and make decisions over the work others need to do to meet certain outcomes is conferred onto an individual. Often young or inexperienced, they assure the adherence to policies and rules and focus on efficiency and productivity. Whether because of the ensuing pressure (even overwhelm) at this point in the new role, this often ignores the very behaviours they criticized were lacking in their leaders to that point.
I see leadership being different in that it uses so many more “keys of the piano” in order to orchestrate the required outcomes. Yes, “Governance” and “rules” etc are important, but leadership learns to understand what drives people and that they want to be part of something meaningful; something they are inspired to want to contribute to; something that adds value to a “bigger picture” of the anticipated outcomes. And they love to follow someone or something that is ‘going somewhere” exciting and challenging. Doesn’t everyone love an adventure?
Leadership doesn’t “follow” processes, trends or “the known”. It “sets” the trends by “Finding the Edge” and charting unknown territories in the pursuit of differentiation and growth. It practices “Leap Frogging” and transcends the known into the new. The only thing it follows is the vision it set that motivates others willingly to follow. And because we are all driven by our own “What’s In It For Me?” (WIIFM), leadership needs to understand what drives us, so it can harness us driving its agenda, but for our reasons.
I’ve learned that while a management position can be granted or given to someone, leadership cannot be given. It has to be taken. While someone can be awarded a leadership role, that doesn’t make them a leader. To lead, they have to take ownership and positively and pro-actively drive the expected with outcomes to their conclusion. And to do so, they need to command more keys (behaviours) on the piano.
I hope that outlines my differentiation of the two concepts.
However, I firmly believe that we can’t lead outcomes or others before we have learned to lead ourselves. I consider this so important, I have written over 30 blog posts on this topic. You can find them at “Leadership of self“.
The Typical Leadership Transition Stages
So let’s start with the typical journey of most careers. We usually start with the development of some form of knowledge through study or apprenticeship, which we then start to apply in a commercial or scientific or humanistic manner through which we develop implementable skills, experience and expertise. Often we start to specialize in our chosen field (or dare I say the one we “fell into”?). We become known for our expertise and our results in our “specialist silo“.
After a period of consistent results and having developed an image and a maturity in our field, we are also often working in teams made up of people with different and complementary skill-sets. At some point we usually also get “tested” in terms of managing or leading parts of or whole teams to see how we cope. Results are no longer entirely or exclusively up to us but depend much more on how we plan, organize and orchestrate the different parts of an initiative into the expected outcomes. This is what I call outcomes leadership.
And if we excel in this space we often get promoted into “management” positions where we are given responsibility for a patch or a group of people or specific outcomes that rely on teams of people delivering their tasks in a “managed” manner. Would you agree with me that this is often where “good performers” are promoted but without assessing their emotional intelligence (EQ) or leadership capabilities and also often without the requisite training, coaching or mentoring? And sadly, often beyond their capabilities. We have all suffered the experience of being micro-managed or where the (new) manager abdicates their responsibility and allows everything to drift along without the necessary controls or milestones etc. You know, where frequently under-performance is tolerated and not dealt with etc etc?
The other aspect of this stage is also that “management” prevails. By that I mean managing outcomes and people by “rules”. We have all heard that the biggest reason people leave organizations is to leave their manager. And how often do we hear or read that it was for this manager’s lacking “people skills” which include the lack of leveraging delegation opportunities for personal development or advancement or insufficient empowerment etc?
This is a space where coaches can often play a massive role to hold up a mirror to such “managers” and allow them to see or feel the impact of their ways. Once there is recognition and there can be acceptance that there are smarter and more effective ways to lead good people to outcomes, we can start working on fine-tuning and honing the right kind of leadership skills. Often that starts with moving away from managing and towards learning, understand and starting to develop skills in true leadership of outcomes and of others.
Before we embark on the next step: “leadership transition“, there is something between management and leadership I’d like to highlight. In project management or in certain other staff or governance or policy functions, we may be accountable for certain outcomes or KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), but have no authority over those people we need to orchestrate into the required outcomes. All we can leverage here are our influencing skills in order to get those stakeholder who we depend on to “want” to contribute and engage. For example, in my own case as the CIO, I was accountable for information security, but I had no authority over my business unit director peers to “make them” adhere to the policies we had set and implemented. I could only influence them to “want to”, and usually only managed that when we were able to identify reasons they would be happy to call “their reasons”. (There’s that concept of “their reasons” again.)
OK, so let’s now talk about leadership transition.
As discussed above, those in this transition need to learn and become adept at a range of different skills. While above I spoke about your growing up in your “specialist silo”, what I also call your “vertical orientation“, one aspect of the transition into leadership is that we need to develop our “horizontal orientation“.
At that point, the “vertical skills” (often also called “hard skills”) we leveraged for our role and career success will no longer serve our career growth. We need to develop the requisite “horizontal skills”. These are the leadership skills I’m referring to.
It is in this “leadership transition” that I spend a growing amount of time in my coaching work today. You probably know by now that I work with 3 selected audiences in my targeted client space:
- Business Executives
- Business Owners
- Business Professionals.
It is mainly in the latter 2 that this leadership transition prevails. New businesses usually start up around the specific (often “technical”) skills or idea of the founding individual(s) where they “do everything”. As it grows, they need to either contract (formal or casual), outsource or employ others to delegate certain tasks and responsibilities in order to meet expectations and often to cope with the growth. Ironically this is where they often make the same leadership behaviour mistakes that were the very cause for them to leave their employer and start their own business in the first place.
This same transition into leadership applies to “Professionals” who are often promoted into management positions because “they are so good at what they do”, and have to learn leadership. And so our coaching sessions are devoted to the awareness of this range of skills like business strategy skills, people skills, advance communication skills, networking skills, influencing skills, presentation skills, diplomacy skills, negotiation skills, delegation skills, performance management skills etc etc. All the so called “soft skills”.
As the term “leadership transition”suggests, this is a transition from whatever career steps or success preceded it into the planned and orchestrated development of what it takes to succeed in leading others.
And as my 4 leadership bullet points above suggest, once we have mastered the leadership of others, the next level of leadership transition then is into developing other leaders and leading them. This is where things like “Succession Planning” and a range of very important visibility, presence and “political skills” are embedded.
To me, this is what “all the fuss” is about. The recognition of the need to transition and then harnessing the wherewithal to do it.
One common and encouraging factor? All of these leadership transition skills are imminently learnable. The beauty about learning and applying them through using a coach is that they are planned, paced, learned and practiced within a structure. More importantly they occur together with a sounding board to deal with questions as they arise. And to personalize their implementation while measuring and managing progress to above all to be held accountable so that they can’t “chicken out”.
So tell me, where do you stand in your career right now? Which transition lies ahead for you? And when might that be? What are you waiting for? What might you be afraid of? You know you can do this, because so many others have. But do you have the will, the plan and the “get up and go” to overcome your fears of doing so? This is exactly what coaches do. They help you over that initial inertia.
And if this blog post may have raised a few questions that remain unanswered for you, why not email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be delighted to discuss them with you?
You can read or listen to these blog posts referred to in the above text by clicking here”: