…or perhaps more accurately successful senior leadership is all in the ‘mindset’. As a precursor to coaching a new senior leader, I discuss with them what they would like as outcomes from the coaching and often what is stated is their desire to acquire a new set of skills and knowledge that will enable them to become the ‘finished product’ as a leader able to operate at the top table. These desired outcomes hint at a leader who holds an expert mindset and a belief that their leadership competency will grow with the acquisition of new knowledge about leadership. And why not have expertise as the foundation of competency? After all, it will quite likely have been their expertise in finance, operations or some other organisational function which has got them to the Board room in the first place.
However, there is an irony here in that this expert mindset which has provided this opportunity to operate at these most senior levels, will also be the mindset that will hinder their capacity to lead at this level. Rather, it will be in the development of a number of key mindset shifts that a leader’s potency will be unleashed when operating at the top.
Although it is undoubtedly true that to operate effectively in a senior leadership role an individual will need to acquire some additional knowledge in order to challenging their colleagues and fully participating in strategic conversations, there is also a requirement to acquire a set of personal capacities which will not have been required in previous roles. The requirement to acquire these capacities comes about in large part from the complexity and ambiguity which is so intrinsically a part of operating at the top; they must be able to deal with the dilemmas, uncertainty and trade-offs that need to be negotiated both literally and metaphorically.
An often used quote in my work is “management is a way of doing, whereas leadership as a way of being”. As someone with an MBA awarded with distinction, I can testify that such a programme of study does greatly enhance one’s capacity to manage. You learn about strategy, finance, operations and marketing amongst a range of other business orientated subjects and useful as it was, it didn’t really help me lead more effectively. Paradoxically, it’s only since I left senior leadership to pursue my career as a coach and leadership consultant that I have truly understood what leadership is and how it develops. Fundamental to this is an understanding and modification to our “way of being”. Imbued in our ”way of being” will be our beliefs, our assumptions and mechanisms for meaning making or, in other words, our mindset. In my experience of working with senior level leaders, there is no doubt about the need to overhaul the mindset which got them into the boardroom if they are to be successful within that same boardroom.
In subsequent blogs I will be looking in more detail at some of the key individual elements of the mindset shifts which need to be challenged and modified.