In many leadership development programs and one-on-one coaching sessions, participants are asked to think about an inspiring leader who they admire or want to emulate. Often the question is phrased as “When you think of a successful leader, who do you think of…?”
Having been in many sessions where this question has been asked, I have recognised patterns in the answers. They include:
My parents/family member/significant teacher
My first boss/first person to give me a break/first mentor/first person to pity me/first person to sponsor me
Richard Branson/Steve Jobs/the Google guys/Elon Musk
Mandela/Gandhi/Mother Theresa and in recent times, Pope Francis
Individual sports stars who have ran very fast, jumped very high or passed the ball better than anyone else
Politicians… actually never come up for some reason
Bono… once… ok that was me who suggested him…
A few weeks ago I heard an answer that absolutely floored me. One that I had never heard before.
The answer forced me to rethink the question and answer completely.
Recently I shared my thoughts about the power of thinking about which conversations to stop and start having so as to increase leadership and individual effectiveness. The notion is broader than it seems as first. Conversations we are having with ourselves, quietly and internally, regularly dictate how we impact others. Conversations within organisations massively impact how the employees go about delivering the work of that organisation. Disruptive innovations force organisations to have different conversations, such as moving from a conversation about “how good we are”, to one that starts with “our industry is changing rapidly and we need to change or go bust”.
Often leaders decide to change conversations for non-dramatic reasons.
Dean, a leader with many years of international years experience, confessed even he was tired of managing another phase of change in his organisation.
This is not surprising – the more senior the leader, the increasing number of transitions they have to manage.
William Bridges (1991) published “Managing Transitions” where he focussed on the transition as opposed to the change itself. A transition is the internal manifestation of that change that happens within the individual – the psychological impact of the change itself. Whilst this might seem subtle, it is significant as he clarified the emotional impacts the individual experiences during each stage of a transition.
Bridges makes a key point that people experience change even if they don’t agree to or desire it. He highlights three zones of transition people go through when they experience change. He said they are:
As every entrepreneur, innovator or business leader that is involved with a major project knows there is a moment when it finally comes together. Finally, you are ready to launch, sign off or let go. Some people say this is similar to birthing a baby…I never have actually birthed a baby so I don’t know!
The emotions however are similar. Nervousness and excitement all in one.
…there has been a lot of talk about this next song…maybe too much talk…
so said an infamous rock star as he went on to introduce one of their hits in a live album recorded at Red Rocks in the USA many years ago. The same can possibly be said for positive psychology. In some regards positive psychology is humanistic psychology re-badged. However with ongoing research, there are real nuggets of insight uncovered that genuinely help us as people and as leaders. These insights help us to understand ourselves better and provide tools to evolve our leadership impact.
Effective leaders are also known to be effective communicators; not a surprising link! Research with 200 successful leaders highlights evidence of the positive relationship between ability in communicating and satisfactory leadership and management performance, Bernard M. Bass (1990). These two hundred leaders had similar communication patterns.
They all expanded their thinking by seeking out new information, feedback and ideas from others; and held the right level of skills to persuade others of the caliber of their ideas. A topical example of this is the well-known Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric. It is quoted that of all his management secrets “his uncanny ability to communicate, to engender an enthusiasm in employees, may well have been his greatest.”
Having an off site for a team is an important intervention. Securing venues, accommodation, external facilitation, food and beverage, team activities, diagnostic tools can be costly. The collective time away represents a significant investment in terms of taking senior leaders out of the business for the period of the offsite. However the pay back for the organisation can be maximised if the meeting is productive, resulting in clear understanding and pathways for action.