High Potentials – Learning to Lead

28 Apr 2015

Business tacticsBy Jean Fagan

Taking on greater leadership responsibilities will challenge young managers and high potential leaders, test personal assumptions and push those who want to take on greater roles to open themselves to committing to new ways of thinking and acting. Individuals and organisations can turn this into a success story for both parties through backing the transition with the right preparation in learning to lead.

The journey starts with understanding the leadership transition and openness to gain personal insight. Jean Piaget, in his study of intelligence, said that humans are intelligent to the extent they can adapt, adjust and accommodate. Intelligence goes well beyond memory and academic achievement. Intelligence in leaders is a combination of adaptability, realistic self-knowledge and excellent interpersonal skills (Thomas A, Atchison; Joseph S. Bujak). Learning to lead includes honestly looking at your current leadership style and how you interact with others. An appetite to do  this will be the difference between longer term career success and failure to deliver personal leadership impact through building high performance teams.

There are seven areas that are critical to work on in the preparation phase of learning to lead:

1. Leading Self
Test assumptions about yourself and how others see you and reflect on your personal leadership style through feedback from others – 360 feedback from your manager, peers (3-4 preferably) and direct reports (at least 2).

Being secure in yourself is an important goal and essential in order to allow trust to develop in relationships. Knowing that improvement is possible through effort and self-discipline, means that impulsive behaviour, no matter the degree of ‘surprise’ or unexpected circumstances, is not an option. Self-discipline will allow you to cut to the core of issues and allow you focus on the best way forward for the good of the team.

2. Interpersonal Leadership
Interacting with people, connecting and bonding. If you can’t experience compassion and genuine concern for others, or connect with the ‘human element’ of relationships, then you won’t be effective. Failure to develop this will impact on being able to deal with conflicts and differences. In a change context, particularly transformational change, conflict, differences of opinion and making the hard decisions is day to day management.

3. Team Leadership
As team leader, your job is to inspire others and motivate best performance. Developing your  coaching skills will support you build the team’s success. Acquiring the skills and having a ‘tool kit’ to deal with challenging individuals will let the team focus on delivering on mission, rather than being distracted, paralysed or derailed.

4. Communication
Communication of a high order allows you to create and articulate a clear purpose, and engage your team in delivering on purpose. Clear role expectations are the foundation for high performance teams. Open and clear dialogue will encourage conflict resolution and draw boundaries. It will achieve buy-in on important decisions and commitment.

5. Knowledge and Skills
Successful leaders must have well developed knowledge and skill. They must acquire new knowledge all the time and develop both hard and soft skills in order to lead effectively. Emotional intelligence, functioning under stress, developing strategic orientation, innovation and fostering creativity, leading change, communication and leading under pressure are some of the skills that high potential leaders need to develop to a higher level.

6. Leadership Energy
Leadership energy is about doing more, rather than being busy. The saying, ‘find a job that you love and you’ll never work another day in your life’ (Confucius) is so true. Leaders thrive on the challenges that others are more likely to find tiring. They work hard, feel enriched by the work and the focus of achieving the goal brings passion, energy and overcomes obstacles.

Finding work that enriches you is the key to unlocking your leadership energy.

7. Negotiation
Negotiation is fundamental for leaders at all levels. Learn to manage the conflict which is inherent in negotiations, understand the emotions behind the negotiations and develop insight into what is driving the position. Effective negotiators prepare and shape the rules with the right mindset, remembering that achieving your goal and finding a solution involves creativity and bonding.