The Roman philosopher and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca stated that: “It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness”. Given that Seneca died in 65AD, he wouldn’t have been particularly mindful of the development challenges facing senior executives and Boards in today’s public and private sector organisations two millennia later. What it does highlight however, is the on-going struggle, experienced by each and every generation of leader, in being able to gracefully grow into and then handle with aplomb the reins of power with both a light touch and with an agility that few seem ever to achieve.
At Starr Performance we have worked for many years with senior leaders and have helped them individually and collectively to ‘inhabit’ their leadership roles more fully and access their authenticity in order that they become more effective and impactful.
Throughout our work some common challenges have emerged in terms of the trials and dilemmas that senior leaders face in becoming effective within their organisations, and the key ones we share with you here:
- the challenge of influencing effectively across an organisationally wide perspective
- the challenge of influencing inter-organisationally
- the challenge of leading without being expert and not knowing the answer
- the challenge of maintaining one’s own resilience and agility when so much is being demanded of them
- the challenge of maintaining a robust vulnerability and thereby remaining authentic, rather than attempting to look heroic.
- the challenge of balancing the leading of ‘what will be’ while also managing the ‘what is’
- the challenge of balancing the needs of a diverse group of influential stakeholders and their disparate requirements
- the challenge of being able to resolve ‘right’ versus ‘right’ decisions and recognising the trade-offs imbued in these decisions and then living with the consequences
- the challenge of getting sufficient clarity of the external environment the organisation faces in order to articulate a sufficiently robust strategic direction
It would be an exaggeration to say that those leaders we have worked with have completely resolved all of the above dilemmas. It is more that they develop an internal capacity (a type of wisdom of sorts) with a shift in both their mindset and meaning making that allows them to sit with these multiple dilemmas and challenges, while demonstrating a dexterity to balance and mitigate conflicting perspectives in order to ‘take the next step’.
The ‘rough road’ that Seneca refers to get to this ‘greater’ place can be encapsulated by the essayist and poet Erica Yong who said “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” Those senior leaders who have traversed the ‘rough road’ will have had to develop a tremendous amount of self-awareness, including undoubtedly them facing up to some of their own limiting beliefs and unblocking these to free up their thinking and their meaning making. Today’s leadership gap at the top has perhaps more to do with too few senior leaders taking this ‘rougher road’ and instead choosing the more well-trodden path of overplaying their positional power and acting out the role of the mythical heroic leader.
One final observation in playing with this metaphor of the ‘rough road to greatness’ is that perhaps those of us undertaking leadership development and in particular executive coaching, are not dissimilar to those road gangs. They come out in the dark places of the night to resurface the ‘rough road’ that then facilitates a smoother ride for those on their journey.