The previous blog highlighted that to operate effectively in a senior leadership role an individual will need to acquire additional knowledge to fully participate in challenging one’s colleagues and contribute to strategic conversations, but there is also a requirement to develop a new mindset. In so doing, one acquires a set of personal capacities which may not have been required in previous roles. The requirement to acquire these capacities comes in large part from the complexity and ambiguity which is a constant phenomenon within organisational life today.

A capacity to be curious rather than defensive
When we get challenged personally, or even when our ideas get challenged by one or more of our colleagues, it is possible for us to become defensive as we feel the ‘sting’ of their challenge. Such defensiveness, although natural, does not serve us. Rather, if we can remain curious about the possible learning and information their challenge provides us with, we might ultimately facilitate a stronger outcome for the organisation from the ensuing debate.

A capacity to be influenced as well as influencing
Many of the decisions and debates which will be undertaken within senior team or Board meetings will be multifaceted, where there is no absolute ‘right’ outcome measured in any objective sense. Rather, individuals will hold a sense of their rightness in a subjective sense, partly informed by their own beliefs and values. If these differing worldviews are to move towards some form of consensus, then not only do individual members need to be able to influence their colleagues, but just as importantly they need to be open to the possibility of being influenced by their colleagues. Without the capacity to be influenced (and by implication having their opinions modified) conversations become stuck and polarised which does not serve the requirement to agree decisions and move forward.

A capacity to listen actively
Building on the previous point, unless we are willing to set aside our need to be seen to be right, we will not be able to listen and be open to what our colleagues are suggesting. When we are caught by our need to be seen to be right our thought processes will be focused upon how we can persuade our colleagues when we next get the chance to speak of the ‘rightness’ of our position. Thus, we will only be focused on listening for their pausing when they finish rather than taking an active interest in what they have to say.

A capacity to be assertive
Assertiveness is not a natural human state. Instead we will tend towards either being overly compliant or overly dominant. Whichever of these polarities we previously preferred, we will be called upon in a senior role to develop the opposite polarity and be able to be sufficiently agile to move between them in the course of our deliberations and functioning as a senior leader. A phrase which comes to mind here is; “say it boldly, but hold it lightly”. Saying something boldly implies assertiveness, while holding it lightly implies the capacity to be influenced by what others have to say in response.

We will continue the exploration of the mindset shifts which need to take place for senior managers to be effective in the next blog.

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