The previous two blogs highlighted that in senior leadership roles there is a requirement to develop a new mindset and in so doing acquire a set of personal capacities which hitherto may have not been required in previous roles. This blog continues to outline a number of the major characteristics which are imbued in this new mindset.
A capacity to be lonely and unpopular
It is often said that it is ‘lonely at the top’ of an organisation, but such loneliness does not just exist within the most senior of roles of Chair or Chief Executive, although it is here that it might be felt most keenly. Anyone who works within the senior management team (SMT) or Board will need to acquire the capacity to be sometimes separate from their colleagues or even members of the team they lead, given the unpopularity of certain decisions which will undoubtedly need to be made. If we are not able to stand this loneliness, we risk compromising our decision-making capacity to protect ourselves rather than ‘do the right thing’.
A capacity to be disappointing and disappointed
Having high expectations of others or the outcomes we wish to influence can lead to greater performance. However, the downside of our expectations can be a sense of disappointment which might cause us to withdraw, become frustrated and be less impactful or influential in our relationships. If we are not mindful we can sometimes confuse our strength of feeling or passion to achieve a particular outcome or decision as an indicator of how ‘right’ we are. If we then do not ‘get our way’ the palpable sense of disappointment reduces our capacity to be effective.
Although we never intend to be disappointing to others, without a capacity to allow ourselves to be disappointing to others we may not be able to push back when others make unrealistic demands of us or we censor ourselves from saying something important. The subsequent impact that an inability to be disappointing has on our senior leadership role cannot be underestimated. It can drive a need for perfectionism, a need for control, a need to take on too much, a need to not admit to mistakes and a need not to ask for help – all of which can lead to burnout, not to mention the ineffectualness of these behaviours on the wider organisation.
A capacity to focus on what is really important
In any senior leadership role there will always be more complexity, uncertainty and issues arising than there are hours in the day to work through them. If we treat every issue which arises with equal importance, we will soon run out of time to focus on the critical issues. We need to be able to focus on what is important and strategic, thereby seeing ‘the wood for the trees’. Those senior leaders who are calm in the face of the daily onslaught have not discovered some toolkit to be ultra-productive, but have come to accept the limits of what they can achieve in the time available to them and take time to prioritise what is really important.
A capacity to pull back in the moment
On very contentious issues it is very easy for all participants in a senior team meeting or board meeting to become embroiled in the detail of the argument. However, a capacity of senior leaders is that they possess enough ‘wherewithal’ to be able occasionally to step back from the debate and check out that the debate is moving towards some form of resolution and that due process is taking place. Although the ownership of this might ideally lie with the most senior person at the meeting, the more participants who have the capacity to d flag up when they perceive things are going awry, the better the eventual outcomes will be.
A capacity to be in service to ‘all of us’
Whatever our life experiences and the vagaries of nature and nurture within our own upbringing, we will undoubtedly start our life with a sense of selfishness and to be in service to our own personal needs and wants. This is indeed a healthy characteristic of growing up and will continue to be familiar to us well into our thirties and probably beyond, albeit less so powerfully held. However, if we still hold our ‘egocentric’ view of the world by the time we take a senior leadership position we will struggle to set aside our personal needs for the good of the wider system we are intending to serve. We even need to move beyond a sense of ‘we-ness’ (serving needs at an organisational or departmental level ) to an ‘all-of-us-ness’ (serving needs at a system wide level) if we are truly to serve our organisation and the communities it serves.
We will finish the exploration of the mindset shifts which need to take place for senior managers to be effective in the next blog.