You Had Me at …

“I’ve been waiting all day for this conversation”, John said.   Skipping all the typical niceties of a meet and greet phone call, he raced forward.  “I want to deconstruct the quest of leadership and build a step by step plan that we implement. How long will it take?”

In true Jerry Maguire fashion, he had me at “quest of leadership”. 

I have the pleasure of working with leaders across many industries and around the globe.  Unique in their situation, their experience, and their team’s dynamics, they share a quest.  A quest I’d describe as wanting to get leadership “right”.  They want to get it right for their personal career aspirations, for the team/s they lead, and for their company.  Yet, what is right?

Though leadership status is granted on paper, leadership success comes when we claim it in mindset, and in action. Rather than a static destination point, leadership is a refined and dynamic confluence of things that have evolved through the navigation of several switches.  Let’s look at the top 3 key switches this quest from an individual contributor (IC) to leader or group contributor (GC) requires:

The switch from me to we. As an individual contributor (IC), our deliverable was the whole or a part of a task or project. Now our deliverable is an orchestra.  A group of people who demonstrate capability in collaborating, communicating, resolving and delivering on any focus that you bring to their agenda.   

Success requires the banishment of any blame based thinking about others or the company.  You own all aspects of how you and the team works.  The impression you make, the ripple effect of your style and words, and the time and attention you give to the needs and requests of others is your responsibility.  Your actions sculpt team culture.

Refining your unique style requires the courage to know who you are and to embrace both your strengths and your opportunities such that you learn to smoothly walk the fine line of balancing your thoughts and emotions with the wants, needs, and perspectives of the other unique individuals in your orchestra such that everyone is engaged and pointed toward the same goal.

The switch from certainty to curiosity.  As an IC, we are assessed for our expertise in a defined area.   As leaders, we are relied on, and measured on, how we unleash, develop, and channel the expertise of others. 

Success requires we position our perspective as just one of the perspectives in the room.  Yielding our certainty to include how others see the situation is the proverbial 1+1=3.   Curiosity about how other’s think, what they see, who they are, what they value and what matters to them in their opportunity to contribute (and be recognized), is their metronome.  It is through the lens of curiosity that we learn how they uniquely tick.  It is with curiosity that your role then becomes to help each of them find their rhythm so they can tick better, independently and together.  In fact, here’s a fun visual for what this looks like. In people, it’s called coherence.  Note how without the connection (you the leader), that synchronization is lost.

The switch from doing to delegating. A frequent challenge shared by those newer to their leadership role is the leap of faith of delegation. Or in other words, trusting.  Delegation requires we loosen the grip and trust others with the things that we know just how we want done, and just how we personally would tackle.  Some see the hurdle as the relinquishing of control over every teeny detail done just the way you want.  Others struggle to see the ROI of spending the extra time to orient and train others to take over tasks.  Some feel they could do it “better”.  All and more are part of this switch.

Success builds on the previous switches and additionally requires we rely on the knowledge, skill, ability and swagger of others.  It requires clear open communication such that all involved understand and have certainty about what is involved and what success looks like.  The switch to delegating requires we are able to establish productive agreements with others such that commitments are made and understandings exist around the details, like how often there is an update, on what if anything, there is permission needed in advance or freedom to create.  Success requires the underlying relationship is strong enough and established enough the people can be vulnerable enough to come and ask for help, if needed.

The ROI of this switch is the ability to be more strategic with your time and thinking.   Supporting the growth and autonomy of others to execute parts of the role that in the past you would do can enhance their engagement and enjoyment and level up the capacity (and often quality) of a team.    

And just to give it a twist….  Although one could argue that leadership of our life is an IC role. I’d propose to you that success in being the leaders of our life require a whole lot of group contributor (GC) type switches.   

In your quest for leadership, what switch might need more of your attention?

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