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Evolving your leadership

A friend recently highlighted an older (but not old) Harvard Business Review article discussing some of the ways leaders need to evolve their approach to leadership in the face of new workplace norms and expectations. (ht: Ryan Howard - Every Leader Needs to Navigate These 7 Tensions) Although written just before the pandemic hit, the tensions it describes between traditional and emerging leadership models is perhaps even more useful now, and it calls to mind an older article (What Makes a Leader?), which also highlighted the many facets of leadership. Importantly, the article describes not only what these tensions are but also how to begin addressing them, and they include a key tool: coaching.

First, the two models, summarized. Traditional leadership is the classic top-down, leader-knows-best model of organizing and running a team or group. In an era of more measured organizational growth or industry development, this sort of model often served its purpose of providing direction based on knowledge and experience. The emerging leadership model, on the other hand, preferences flexible goals, data-based decision making, and incorporation of team input in decision-making. Rather than making leadership a choice between these two extremes, however, the trick is finding comfort in working along the spectrum between the two in ways that are appropriate to the situation.

The tensions presented include:

  • The Expert vs. the Learner

  • The Constant vs. the Adaptor

  • The Tactician vs. the Visionary

  • The Teller vs. the Listener

  • The Power Holder vs. the Power Sharer

  • The Intuitionist vs. the Analyst

  • The Perfectionist vs. the Accelerator

The article is well worth the read for the examples of the pitfalls or challenges of operating on the extremes of either tension. But I want to highlight the authors' recommendations for "developing the ambidexterity to move between the two [ends of the spectrum] as the context requires." They highlight three areas of focus:

  • Self-awareness

  • Learning, adaptation, and practice

  • Contextual awareness

Focused effort directed in each of these areas will help make leaders more 'ambidextrous' in their approach to challenges to their teams and their businesses, but work with a coach can amplify and speed up those gains (for those who are ready to be coached). Coaching helps a leader move beyond the surface level of actions -- how they interact with the world -- to help develop the way they think about the world and their role in it. This can be a game-changing shift, that turns all the surface level actions we recognize as good leadership into the effortless and natural way they operate.

You have probably seen a difference in leaders whose otherwise positive actions don't seem to align with their core beliefs. It's often hard to put a finger on what the inconsistency is, but chances are you are sensing their effort to engage in the 'right' actions but without a belief that doing so really is the right thing to do. You can tell when the boss really cares what your answer is to, "So how are you?" It's a small example, and the impact of that sort of inconsistency only gets bigger when the stakes are higher -- when going through the motions of soliciting your input on a pitch, project, or strategy; or when "how are you" might actually give you a chance to lighten your load, simply by sharing your burden.

How do you see leadership evolving - yours or that of someone else? What made the difference?


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