The previous three 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 concludes outlining the major characteristics which are imbued in this new mindset.

A capacity to be brave

In an ideal world there would be a sufficiency of time to explore and uncover a sufficiency of evidence to know when you are making the ‘right choice’ around a very difficult or complex issue. There will however, be times when neither the hard evidence can be mustered nor is there sufficient time to give to a particular issue when other issues of a more pressing nature require the lion’s share of one’s time. And yet the decision will still need to be made despite this level of ambiguity and uncertainty in the outcome. This requires both the wisdom and the courageousness to make a stance with the possibility we could later be proved wrong.

A capacity to be present

It has been quoted that “management is a way of doing, whereas leadership is a way of being”. Perhaps what characterises one’s ‘way as being’ most clearly is in terms of the presence an individual possesses. Put simply, when we are present we are neither in the grip of any habitual patterns developed in our past that might constrain us, nor are we overly owning a particular outcome in the future, and instead we are able to give all of ourselves to the present moment and the conversations which are going on around us, in order that we can fully engage in getting the best possible outcome for the organisation we are serving.

A capacity to take ownership and be held accountable

Every senior leader will at some stage want to bring to their senior management team meeting or Board meeting a particularly thorny issue which faces them. Depending upon the formality of the organisation that might come in the form of a paper or presentation from which a subsequent discussion and outcome can emerge.  Unless the person bringing the issue really owns it and has an opinion on what they are recommending as a course of action. there is often not enough that is tangible for colleagues to challenge, critique or add to, thereby making the debate less effective.

A capacity to be resilient

There are good reasons to consider that mental toughness is a critical component of success in a senior leadership role. Resilience is a capacity to remain optimistic about the future whilst facing adversity in the present, which is admittedly easier said than done. Also imbued in our capacity to be resilient is an ability to adapt and evolve, not just in terms of acquiring new skills, but also how we make meaning and learn to sit with adversity.

As a word of caution, resilience requires an equal amount of wisdom, as without wisdom we may become stuck in ‘holding the line’ when a more adaptive response  is required. Our wisdom allows us to better differentiate those situations where resilience rather than adapting is most appropriate. 

A capacity to be agile

Perhaps more than any other capacity previously mentioned, agility encapsulates what is most required in a senior leader. Agility in this context is the capacity to lead effectively despite the rapid change and growing complexity of organisational life. Unless senior leaders themselves become agile, their organisations will not be able to adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of the communities or clients that they serve. For a senior leader this can be expressed as ‘range not change’. The qualities which have got them to where they are will still be required, but they will also need to expand the range or repertoire of their thinking and behaving for them to thrive.

This concludes the third and final blog which outlines some of the key capacities which senior leaders need to develop if they are to be successful in their evermore complex roles. What is hopefully most apparent in reviewing these capacities is that they are all developmental elements of a new and more complex way of thinking, perceiving and meaning making, rather than the traditional knowledge based learning imbued in programs like MBAs and traditional leadership courses.


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