Quality of a leader is found in the standards they set themselves.
We have all seen many good managers shoot through the corporate ranks and find themselves being promoted to that exciting leadership position. Running a standalone business or a business within a global enterprise is a completely different set of challenges to being head of a function in a company. It is often said that if you want to become a great leader, you first have to become a great follower.
I believe that in business there are few challenges an individual faces that is so dramatic as the transition from being a successful functional head to that of running an organization. For those of you who have never done it, just imagine you were managing a global sales team on Friday and then on the following Monday morning you are leading the entire organization. Over the weekend, you will have had to morph from builder to architect, with the added duties of overseeing and having to understand how multiple different functions and teams interact and influence the success of the company. In contrast to the sales leader whose tools of their trade are reasonably tangible, the business leader’s tools are less tangible and in so many cases tacit and aren’t easily be learnt.
The skills that enabled the functional head to shine are not enough to lead - functional heads search for consensus whilst leaders mold consensus. Organizational leaders should be proactively engaged with a far broader all-encompassing stakeholder group some of which they may be unfamiliar with i.e. shareholders and analysts to name a few. I want to emphasize the word proactively. These individuals and groups aren’t going to come to the leader, the leader needs to identify them and go to them. To stand a chance of achieving this they need to have a natural ability to create new networks, extend existing networks and then have the ability to bringing these together so they are able to take on the big issues on the corporate agenda.
With all these new challenges, we often see freshly anointed leaders naturally regress to focusing on the business functions that are in their comfort zone, leaving the others. That transition from specialist to generalist is a big gap to bridge. One of the main reasons is that the leader naively believes that they have to own the answers to every company problem and grease the wheels of every project. A behavior that needs to be replaced by a broad inclusive approach to unraveling business challenges. This is achieved by appreciating that the organization is a matrix of sub-cultures, each with its own mental models and languages but when brought together unlocks the collective knowledge and power of the enterprise. Effective leaders galvanize these functions into one cohesive set of business systems. If this inspires others to dream more, learn more and become more, you are a leader.
Embracing the necessary characteristics of the leader requires them to let go of the tactics and detail by opening their minds to higher level matters – focus on the direction of the company as opposed to the project. Remember time is always against the leader as the future is impatient of the old and the present. I often frame a functional leader’s mindset as a “What, How, Why” mindset (ie tactical), as opposed to a leaders mindset which needs to be the exact opposite “Why, How, What” (ie Strategic). To learn more about this I highly recommend almost anything by Simon Sinek. www.startwithyhy.com
Another knee jerk reaction of a new leader is for them to jump into driving some sort of organizational change (without a license!). There may be a very good reason to, but prior to embarking on such a journey, establish a deep and thorough understanding of the complex series of business systems that underpin the various departments, customers, stakeholders and market place of the business. Without this robust grasp it is so often at best, folly and at worst, corporate suicide. An enterprise’s, business systems are founded on the principles of organizational mechanics, design and business process improvement which few functional managers are trained in it. Lets remember leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower.
Leaders of the future tend to naturally have an ability to find a way of moving to front and becoming unconditionally accountable and responsible for the performance of the organization. They do this by being strong because they tend to admit they are imperfect and they are wise because they have doubts. They are expected to be “trustworthy” and unconditionally “selfless”. In a nutshell “serve” every stakeholder in the firm. Inspire and light the fires that are so often barely smoldering in our hearts, and unlock the energy of the organization. Serve to lead.