The Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!
As a result of vocation and experience, I spend a great deal of time bridging generations and striving to support leadership and professional development for those just reaching the executive suite and for those just starting out on their career journeys.
It’s a fascinating contrast in perspectives.
The more youthful of the two groups stare at today’s world of volatility unblinking. It’s what they know and what they’ve grown up with in their short lives. Change, speed, technology, globalization, events that shock the entire economic system….it’s familiar ground.
Those with experience still deal with the notion that “this feels really different.” In my own case, the global world of business looks nothing like the world I encountered when I was fresh out of college. It does indeed feel different just about every day.
Regardless of perspective there are some critical core skills required to lead successfully in this environment. Leaders…and professionals of all ages and experience levels, take heed and invest in cultivating these nine skills required for success in this era:
Nine Key Professional Capabilities Demanded By Our Times:
1. Acting and Leading Authentically. It’s more critical than ever to be able to build trust on teams, trust across cultures…and trust as a leader, and the best starting point is to be yourself, let people see your strengths and weaknesses and work hard to get to connect with and get to know those you work with and for.
2. Learning to Adjust Your Altitude. Helping your organization successfully navigate through today’s minefield of change requires the ability to connect the big picture…i.e. the macro forces and emerging patterns in markets and industries to the details of execution inside our organizations. You need to see the forest and the trees.
3. Learning to Leverage Extreme Ambiguity. Unfortunately, ambiguity combines with fear to paralyze teams and individuals and exacerbate problems. Today’s leaders must embrace ambiguity as an opportunity to create, not a requirement to hunker down and wait until the smoke clears. It never does.
4. Recognizing the Need to Adapt. It’s nice to be the one promoting change and guiding teams into new frontiers. However, change will impact you as well, and your ability to adapt versus retreat is critical for survival and success. Ask anyone who has ever survived and then succeeded following a merger and they will quickly highlight their acceptance of the situation and their focus on adapting to the new role, culture and mission as critical to their success.
5. Paying Attention to Building High Performance Teams. Most of our work takes place on teams and in projects. Your ability to enable and support successful team development is mission critical in this world. There are common conditions surrounding high performance teams, and most of them don’t spontaneously generate. As a team leader, you own forming and framing the environment, promoting values, teaching teams to talk, argue and decide. You own feedback, coaching and ensuring proper organizational support. As a team member, you need to approach every assignment as an opportunity to strengthen your network, gain new skills, support your team members and showcase what you can do to help the group achieve.
6. Growing Your Cultural Intelligence (CI). There’s a nearly perfect probability that your business will become increasingly intertwined with global suppliers, customers, partners, competitors and team members. Developing CI is an organizational initiative, and one that must be pursued in the planning or early phases of your global outreach. If you are increasingly involved in leading teams with contributors from around the globe, you are absolutely on the spot for advancing your Cultural Intelligence. Your results depend upon it.
7. Learning to Switch Gears from Leading to Following. Strengthening your skills as a follower is as important as strengthening your skills as a leader. As functional and national boundaries dissolve or at least shrink, your ability to move seamlessly from leader of one initiative to committed follower for another is critical to your success. And your efforts here set an outstanding example for those around you.
8. Recognizing the Need to Grow Your Power. Those with power are the ones who get things done inside organizations. The best way to cultivate power is to volunteer for it. Grab the initiatives that need ownership and draw others into those initiatives and suddenly, you are deciding what gets done and who does it. Welcome to power. No need to over-throw the boss or stick knives in backs. Just solve some problems.
9. Cultivating an Innovation Mentality. Gone are the days when innovation was just for engineers. It’s an innovation-driven world, and the most compelling innovations are occurring in how we work, communicate, market and make money. If you’re leading others, one of your Key Performance Indicators is how innovative your team is. Their innovation is a reflection of your leadership. If you’re working as an individual contributor, every team and every project needs great ideas. Learn to take risks and learn to sell hard and then prove your ideas. Build a reputation as an innovative thinker and doer, and the world is yours!
The Bottom-Line for Now:
I’ve just offered a long list of really difficult things for you to do. Awareness is the first step. Audit yourself against the nine critical skills above and then take action to strengthen the already strong and improve the weak. Seek external feedback from those you trust to provide you the unvarnished truth about yourself. Find a coach. Approach each opportunity with a “Beginner’s Mind,” and seek to learn through more education or via your own self-education. And most importantly, don’t delegate your development and growth to your firm or your boss. Take control. While others choose you for success via promotions and new challenges, you own making their choice an easy one.
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An ideal book for anyone starting our in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.