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Musings on Modern Leadership part 2

 So just what is “leadership work”?

Once you are prepared to fake it until you become it in pursuit of your new work identity what should you spend your time doing?

The difference between managing and leading is largely one of focus. The manager’s focus is predominantly internal to the team (except when/if they have client contact); they’re the oil and the glue that keeps the team together and working smoothly. The ‘hub’ channelling and directing work within the team.

But a successful leader must be a bridge, a linchpin with the rest of the organisation AND outside the organisation. The leader’s first focus should be external (Ibarra calls it Outsight). Within the organisation you need to be operating across divisions or teams, outside the organisation you need to be constantly scanning the horizon for opportunities and threats.

The manager asks what is the best way of doing this process? Can it be made better? Their goal is delivery.

The leader constantly asks of themselves and others, “Why are we doing this?”, “Should we still be doing this?” “What should we stop doing and start doing instead?” They create new structures and ways of working rather than functioning within the current structure. Their goal is transformation.

Leaders must be future focused yet too many are bogged down in day to day operational work (and often unable to distinguish between the two; another transition pitfall, another change in behaviour!). There is a strong pull to do more of what they were best at before, becoming ever more expert in the wrong thing at the expense of ‘leadership work’ (again it is getting executives to accept ‘what got them here will not get them there’)

You want to be effective? That means being a “Time Nazi”, keeping complete control of your diary. As super investor Warren Buffett once put it: “You’ve got to keep control of your time, and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda.”

At the start of a coaching assignment I always negotiate for time now – a successful coaching outcome can often hinge on the outcome of this negotiation. Why? Time is an executive’s most valuable asset. Between us we can come up with the most perfect plan of action. It will count for nothing if the coachee cannot MAKE the time to put it into action.

My first question? What 20% minimum can you cut out to free up time? Invariably the answer is there’s NOTHING I can cut!

It’s never true. There is always fat to be cut.

There are inevitably historic activities from previous manager roles that should not sit with them but they have taken them with them (because they are good at it, it’s in their comfort zone).

Ditch. Delegate. Delay becomes the ruthless mantra.

Delegated activities normally never return. Finding slack requires another yet change of mindset to change what you class as important.

Who the No 2 is plays a crucial role in the leader’s effectiveness. The ideal No 2 should have complementary skills and be an excellent executer with a delivery focus. A great manager.

Without slack in your schedule you can’t become a successful leader. Leadership ‘guru’ John Kotter once filmed a bunch of senior execs going about their days. Successful ones appeared to be ‘inefficient’, wandering around, bumping into colleagues, popping into offices for an informal chat, they had lots of space in their diaries. The ones with heavily structured days full with meetings, reports, presentations etc proved to be less effective.


Effective leadership work often looks like nothing of the sort, it’s ill defined and unstructured. Why? Because so much of being a successful leader is built on building relationships (networking which I covered in a recent article across and outside the organisation.

Without a broad network you’re operating blind, you miss strategic opportunities and threats and finding the best people.

Finally, returning to ‘the authenticity thing’. Much is made currently of being authentic, especially in coaching circles.

The problem with being authentic is which one?! We have many selves; the home version? The Saturday night version our friends get (if I did that I’m not sure I’d get many clients)?

Even sticking to your authentic work self is problematic because that current version is by definition historical. The danger is your past authentic self can trap you. To be defined by your past means you inevitably see change as losing something rather than a chance to gain something better.

We are all massively motivated to act in a way that expresses the core of who we are and massively resistant to behaviours that contradict that. We feel fake, insincere. Even worse our integrity is threatened.

How to get around this without surrendering your integrity? Take it back to basics; your values. Your values tend to express who you are now or where you want to get to. They have a future focus.

To go from being authentic to ‘being authentic by being true to current values and goals’ creates some flexibility to act and behave in alternative ways from your norm. Flexing out of your default way of acting in pursuit of achieving closely held value driven goals.

Being flexible is not the same as pretending!

By doing this, regardless of how it feels to you, you are perceived as adaptable, keen to learn. You are seen to be “stepping up”, that workplace Holy Grail. End result? It has been shown you progress faster, particularly in the earlier stages of your career.

If you don’t know how to start trying different behaviours in pursuit of a value driven goal look around you. Who can you learn and borrow from? This goes back to the NLP principle of modelling behaviour (amazing the number of NLP coaches who talk about authenticity but can’t see the contradiction between the two). Not copying someone wholesale (bit creepy) but talking the best bits from several sources; colleagues, famous people, online, offline, friends, family, anywhere!

And then trying, discarding or adapting these behaviours until you create a whole that works for you. Again acting your way into a new way of being.


The ‘leadership thing’ boils down to getting playful. Test, experiment, be a little vulnerable (there’s great power to win people over by showing a little vulnerability), accept you don’t have all the answers. View yourself through where you are going not where you have come from, be prepared to act without knowing exactly where your new leader identity will take you but believe that you have enough experience, resilience and resourcefulness to know that you can work it out as you go.

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