Breaking the Cycle (From Chapter 1 of Becoming a Leader of Leaders)
By Ian Lees
You are entering one of the most significant transitions in your career. The demands have increased significantly. The stakes are high. So, how can you start to break out of the cycle of burning more hours and energy for less impact and results? Here are some important starting points.
Stay in the pain
It’s natural to recoil from pain – and that goes for emotional pain as well as physical pain. No one enjoys feeling anxious, stressed, out of control and out of their depth. Us humans are experts at avoiding pain. We’ll try pretty much anything to stop it – especially by denying that we have a problem at all, and instead blaming other people or our circumstances. With this transition, it’s important that you stay in the pain – that you face the reality of what you are experiencing by allowing yourself to feel the pain and discomfort without fighting against it and without assessing it as a deficiency in yourself. This pain can serve you by giving you the energy to change and opening you up to where you need to change.
Be open, not constricted
As you experience the growth pains of this transition, you will likely be constricting yourself. Your eyes narrow, your jaw tightens, and your body draws into itself. Your body, your mind and your emotions constrict, and your options and possibilities seem to narrow. What is important in this transition is to open up to new experiences, new ways of seeing things, and new ways of getting things done. You can start by opening your body by relaxing your eyes, your jaw or neck, and the muscles of the rest of your body. This will help you to loosen up and open your current interpretations and assessments to change.
Listen to yourself
This opening up will help you to start listening to yourself. Listening to yourself includes listening to what you are feeling, what you are thinking, and how you are interpreting your experience. Being able to do this is essential for change and growth. It’s through this that you can start to do the work of unlearning old ways and learning new ones.
Delete the belief that "leadership is the same everywhere"
There are two common beliefs that you must delete. The first one is that leadership is a generic set of skills that are basically the same no matter the role and organisation you are in. You can see this approach in a lot of leadership books and courses, but the practices that make for a successful leader can vary a lot from organisation to organisation and role to role. This is especially true for becoming a leader of leaders. Accepting the idea that ‘leadership is the same everywhere’ blinds you to the changes you must face and leaves you resting on the leadership practices from your past role, which might not apply so well to this one.
Delete the belief that "what got you success before will get you success now"
The second common belief that you must delete is a more subtle assumption: the idea that what got you to where you are is what will continue to give you success. In some ways, it’s very natural to keep doing the things that have been working for you. Yes, some of the knowledge, skills and practices that you have from your first team-leader role will still be useful as a leader of leaders, but not all of them. Some of them you will keep, and some you will need to leave behind. The important thing is that you become aware of the unquestioned beliefs you have about success. For example, I know a senior leader in a large healthcare organisation who was a star that people loved as an individual contributor, and then as a leader of small clinical teams. His teams loved him because they felt they were supported when he regularly, closely checked their technical work. They loved the sense of clarity they got from how he specified work processes in great detail.
Now, a senior leader, this person takes exactly the same approach but with very negative effects. The leaders who report to him feel stifled and micromanaged. Much of the best talent has left, and his organisation struggles to recruit leaders because his reputation is now widespread. The bottom line is that some of the things that are important to succeeding as a team leader can get in the way of becoming a successful leader of leaders.
Ian Lees is the lead coach at Optimal Future. He works with leaders in complex organisations who want to get better at taking people with them to shape the future. He provides engaging and insightful coaching so that leaders can achieve results in ever-changing environments by sustaining their own energy, engaging and inspiring people and actively shaping the future. Ian completed the Certified Ontological Coaching and Leadership Program 2015. Find out more here.
Find out more about Becoming a Leader of Leaders: How to succeed in bigger jobs and still have a life, including downloading your free two chapter sample and how to purchase your copy here.