Five ways for leaders to build their own confidence

Every coaching assignment, whether it be with an executive or a team, will at some point circle around to the topic of confidence. True confidence, not the overplayed type that is really only a cover for feeling inadequate or insecure, is a sexy, appealing trait that serves people and organisations well.

Research from the University of Melbourne shows what many people instinctively knew, that is confident people earn more money and have stronger career opportunities than their peers who are less confident.  Lead author Dr Reza Hasmath, from the University’s School of Social and Political Sciences, said the findings also shed new light on previous studies that argued the existence of ‘erotic capital’, meaning better looking people are more likely to get ahead in the workplace or studies which indicate taller people earn higher salaries. However, the research shows that higher confidence levels — which may be a by product of attractiveness and height — which make all the difference,” said Dr Hasmath.

While there can be much focus on what confident people do – what is more important is what enables that – what confident people believe and think which then triggers these behaviours. Truly confident people are inherently happy in their own skin. They draw their self worth from within themselves and as a result do not seek nor need the approval or attention from others. They also have an “internal locus of control” which means they believe they can impact and affect their lot. They are masters of their own destiny as opposed to be powerless in what happens to them and the role they play.

Dr. Travis Bradberry who wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0 suggests there are some cardinal behaviours that confident leaders exhibit regularly. Like all behaviours these can be learned and cultivated.  Understanding the underlying beliefs and thinking patterns which underpin the behaviour, will make the behaviour easier to master.

Here are five behaviours and beliefs that all leaders can develop.

Don’t pass judgment
Confident people tend not to pass judgment on others. There is nothing for them to gain or protect themselves from through the criticism of others. They understand that those who overtly judge others quietly judge themselves. Those people become their own biggest critic and over time this actually saps their own confidence. Ironically this leads to a downward spiral of judging more- decreasing confidence- judging more etc.

Confident leaders look for where people can contribute. The leadership behaviour they exhibit is to actively look for the best strengths of their people.

Know how to say no and stress less
One global CEO recently told a meeting of international leaders in an advanced leadership development program held in Basel that his biggest learning as a CEO was to ‘ruthlessly guard his diary’. Studies from The University of California shows that those leaders who have difficulties in saying no to requests tend to have higher levels of burnout, stress and depression. The mindset confidant leaders adopt is that their time is finite and needs to be spent on the most strategic and important priorities. The behaviour sounds like a clear answer to requests which leave the asker in no doubt that the leader is either available or is not.

They develop strong oration skills
Remember the Presidential candidate who told his country, “Yes we can!”? Barack Obama is renowned for his speaking skills and for years instilled a sense of confidence because of how he connected with audiences. The behaviours confident leaders exhibit are to speak with certainty and clarity whilst accentuating the main points they want to be heard. Confident leaders believe that their fundamental role is to influence others and speaking well is the most basic form of influence.

Being wrong is actually right
“I don’t know the answer you are looking for but let me come back to you”, is a common approach most sales representatives are taught in sales training 101. Confident leaders are confortable with both offering their opinions, often to see if they land well but also knowing that having diverse opinions in a team can only be healthy and are happy to be wrong for the greater good. In 2020 we have seen many examples around the globe with business and political leaders assuming they knew better than Covid 19. They were proven wrong and yet many continued to profess they were right all along, to their detriment.

It was them not me
Confident leaders learn that their rewards and fulfilment come through the success of others. They do not overtly seek the limelight or public recognition preferring to direct that to others. Publicly acknowledging the source of ideas or proposals that are deemed to be positive and raising the profile of up and coming employees is an important behaviour confident leaders exhibit. The mindset they embrace stems from a sense of self worth that is internalised, i.e. their rewards do not come from external public recognition. Rather they are able to focus outwards and help assist others to succeed and gain recognition as a result.

So, if you are seeking to increase your confidence, the pay off is potential career promotions, salary increases with less associated stress. Not bad!

So, on a scale from 1-10, how truly confident are you?

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

Listen to the latest podcast on The Leadership Diet

When Leaders Inspire Confidence Through Feedback, Everyone Wins

Today I saw a leader of an organisation do something that I have never seen done before and it had an amazing impact on everybody in the room. The Managing Director of a global healthcare organisation gave feedback to each of her direct reports in a way that will have a lasting, uplifting impact on them I suspect for the rest of their lives.

Here’s what she did.

She approached everybody that reports into the leadership team and asked them for feedback on their leader. However, she didn’t stop there.

Specifically, she asked them to give her some words or phrases that would give her insight into

(a) the greatest strengths each leader has and
(b) what they like the most about working for that person.

Initially she received feedback by email, she told the team, and then she followed up with a conversation with individuals and groups. This allowed her to get more anecdotal stories and greater insight into each leader that she was receiving feedback upon.

She then continued by saying to the team collected in front of her;

However, she did not stop there.

She took the feedback for everybody and created a visual word cloud that captured the main comments and consistent themes that emerged. She then framed each of these into a picture frame.

Today at the end of a leadership team meeting she got up in the front of the room to talk about the last 12 months and how proud she was of the team in terms of its achievements.

She then continued by saying:

“Not only am I convinced that you are all the right people to be on this team, I know for sure that everyone who reports to you is also convinced you are the right people to lead this organisation.

How do I know?  I went and asked them … !”

A pin could have dropped in the room as people waited in anticipation as to what was coming next. She then individually presented each person with their framed word cloud and gave an individual tailored narration as to what their team had said about them and why that leader was important to each team as well as the impact they were having.


As an observer of this process it was amazing to watch how everybody filled with pride “for their colleagues“. As everybody was receiving the feedback and framed word cloud their colleagues beamed with pride as they listened to the feedback that was being shared. The room felt palpably different at the end of the 40 minutes. The trials and tribulations that the team had undergone in the previous 12 months suddenly seemed to dissipate into the ether. All the effort they had put in to turn around an organisation seemed minimal compared to the verbal and positive feedback they were receiving from…effectively the organisation.

What struck me afterwards was how simple an act this was by their leader.

The idea of approaching members of the organisation to give feedback to their leaders in two specific areas and then to delve a bit deeper is one thing but then to take that positive feedback and with a genuine sense of authenticity create something memorable for each of those leaders was entirely different.

To top it off was to take the time to present that to them in a public forum in front of their peers and genuinely share her pride in the fact that they were on the team I think is relatively unique. It was the best positive leadership team feedback session I have ever been a part of.

Well done, leader!

Well done, team.

Questions of Character, Credibility and Confidence

Story telling in organisations, families and indeed all kinds of tribes is powerful and revealing. The stories give insight into what is valued, rewarded and subsequently insights into culture.

Whether leaders actively shape their organisation or not, stories are being told anyway. Stories of how ‘some people get away with murder around here’ because they:

(a) are of a particular status,
(b) have been here for a particular length of time or
(c) generate a particular amount of revenue

get told over cups of coffee and in lunch rooms all over the world.

Being originally from Ireland, now living in Sydney but spending lots of time travelling around Asia with work, I am always fascinated by what emerges within the organisational narrative.

US based firms actively use stories to amplify the organisational traits they want the world to know about. For example, Zappos’ have a story that has been retold on many platforms about one customer service call operator staying on a call for over ten hours to keep the customer happy. Whole Foods regularly talk about their staff taking such a keen interest in their customers they notice when someone has not being in the store for awhile and then will take it upon themselves to visit / call that customer to check they are ok.

Perth based writer and consultant Bernadette Jiwa has built her business around helping organisations get clear on the stories they want to tell their markets. Her book, Difference, suggests that context is the differentiator between a good idea and a commercial success. Context is having a clear understanding who the product or service is for; what it is that they really want deep down, and; why they will care about one thing more than another.

She proposes that marketing and sales are less about persuasion and more about understanding. If you don’t understand your potential customer’s worldview how can you tell a brand story that matches it? Specifically, how can leaders shape stories to support their “go to market” strategies and long term sustainability?

Most leaders are not naturally skilled at telling stories and have to learn the structure of story telling. If we start with asking questions, the story naturally emerges.

A few years ago I sat in a 3 day leadership team meeting and observed that during the day time meeting the conversation was very logical, factual and maybe even boring at times. In contrast, at night over dinner and drinks, the leaders shared examples of the various enterprise software sales they had made and recalled the positive impacts that software had on the business of their customers and the end consumer. I heard stories of pride, immense pride that their organisation was able to have that positive impact on others.

When we discussed this the following day those leaders realised they were not sharing that level of pride within their organisation.

Using a simple one-person camera and basic interview techniques, they started asking their sales teams questions about what customer stories they had that should be shared amongst other colleagues. Each story was told by the individual without prompting and all finished with the individual commenting that ….“that is the reason I am proud to work here…”.

They started with a question and finished with a range of insightful, emotional and connective stories that fashioned the organisation.

Shawn Callahan from Anecdote regularly help leaders develop story telling abilities in organisations. They also start with asking questions. Some beauties they ask in workshops are available to download here.

I have adapted some of their questions and over the years have found they always generate some marvellous stories for the leader to use.

  • When have you found yourself following someone when you didn’t expect to?
  • When have you seen a leader make a gutsy move against the odds and come up trumps?
  • What causes people to lose respect for others around here?
  • “Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing themselves…” How does that resonate for you the leader?
  • We have two ears and one mouth so best to listen twice as much as we talk. How often do you get that ratio wrong? What happens?
  • Good enough versus perfect?
  • Ever failed by succeeding or succeeded by failing?
  • Gandhi said that “your values become your destiny”. How does this resonate around here?
  • Trust takes years to build and moments to destroy. How do the leaders around here embody trust?

Great stories at their core are providing great insights to important questions.

Disney knew that.
Hollywood knows that.
Seth Godin knows that.
Most authors know that.

For the leader, to create a compelling story or narrative for your organisation, take time to answer the most important questions. And then tell that story over and over and over again until it sticks.

This will illustrate the character you want to build in your organisation, emphasise credibility for those who demonstrate this character and ultimately, foster confidence in the people who are following your leadership – they will know what you stand for.

How are you answering the questions you need to ask?

Five Ways How Leaders can become effective, faster

Every organisation in the world will have a leader transitioning into a new role at some stage. Yet many organisations are unsure how to accelerate those transitions.

Studies show that up to 25% of all C-level leadership appointments result in failure and 80% of transitions are reported to take longer than anticipated by the organisation.

It is surprising even with the billions that are invested each year in leadership development and all the care that is taken in talent management and succession planning that more than 90% of recently appointed senior leaders believe they are not ready and adequately prepared for promotion when it is offered.

The impact is that the effective point (EP) takes longer to achieve. The EP is when a leader has successfully transitioned and is fully operational in their new role.

The delay in reaching their EP has a profound impact on the organisation in terms of performance, reputation and the pace and effectiveness of strategic decision making. This has a ripple effect on strategic clarity, alignment, employee morale and ultimately, turnover rates.

What we do know is leaders who actively manage their transition well and use support, reach their effective point up to nine months faster than others.

Given the financial cost of promoting and recruiting new leaders, coupled with their leadership impact on the business, reaching the EP as quickly as possible is a critical factor.

So, what can a leader do to accelerate their transition?

  1. Plan the start well before you start
    Being promoted to a new leadership role internally or being hired from an external position is both exciting and daunting. Many leaders make the mistake of not planning their first month of operation before they get into the seat. Some keys activities to undertake include:

    • Using the experience from the role you are about to vacate, take time to understand your natural biases. Direct reports and stakeholders in the current role are best placed to help you understand what you naturally do and don’t do well.

    • Leaders in transition can underestimate the different leadership requirements than they have previously demonstrated, that their new role will demand.

      Knowing your natural strengths, weaknesses and biases is a fundamental starting point to inform what will needed to be accommodated and adapted to meet the demands of the new role and organisation.

    • Take time to study trends affecting the company you are joining or being promoted in. Don’t be limited to industry specific information. Look broadly. Curiosity is one of the top four traits, leaders need to master particularly if they are taking on the most senior level role in the local organisation.

    • Take time to clarify the mandate that is being given to you by the Board or most senior leader. Agree up front what will realistically be accomplished in the first month. Many leaders find themselves quickly falling out of grace when joining a new organisation by assuming what they might have done previously, perhaps in a different organisation or position, will automatically be acceptable in the new one.
  1. Look, listen and learn so you can quickly gain consensus
    Many newly appointed leaders underestimate the importance and value of taking their time to complete a due diligence to understand:
    • What they have inherited
    • What is expected from them by the different stakeholders and
    • How to best achieve what is expected, before they start to make decisions.

    Regardless of background, there is benefit from understanding the varied perspectives, needs, opportunities and challenges of different stakeholder groups so this can be used to inform thinking and decision-making.

    Important areas to spend time in understanding in the first month include stakeholders needs; your direct reports as a group; the organisation’s approach to supporting new leaders (or not); workflows and the over arching culture. Two simple, worthwhile questions to ask your new colleagues in the first month are:
    • What is/ is not working well around here?
    • What would you do if you were in my shoes?
  1. Provide clarity to others by deciding and articulating the organisation’s future needs and direction
    Most leaders are able to understand and decide the organisation’s strategic needs within the first three months. Taking time to publicly define or redefine those needs is the first ‘stamp’ of the new leader being in charge. Seeking out some tangible early wins is the second most important visible sign a new leader has arrived.

    Once the strategic plans are announced and in place, working fast to coordinate cross-functional performance to drive those plans becomes the third accelerator of transition.
  1. Energise the organisation through a series of projects and destinations.
    Organisations need a planned destination. Employees need a ‘true north” by which to navigate and measure progress. The leader in transition needs to coordinate the creation and articulation of this plan. The fastest way to bring employees ‘on a journey’ is to articulate the organisational strategy and in a visual format describe the key priorities that underpin that destination.

    Historically this might have looked like four pillars or five buckets. What is important is not “pillars’ or ‘buckets’ but rather a clear map illustrating cross functional projects the organisation will under-take to enable the end point to be attained.

    Leadership teams that undertake this kind of activity always report back the usefulness of the visual depiction, particularly during times of organisational stress. The imagery becomes a compass for the organisation.
  1. Get support along the way.
    Leadership transitions are where leaders are made or broken. Expat leaders are a case in point. The typical expat leader is undergoing 3-5 transitions at once, often for the first time, when taking on a new international leadership assignment. The failure rate is up to 45%.

    The impact for leaders who are successful in transitioning is not only for themselves and their families. One study from CEB suggests that the direct reports of leaders who successfully manage their transition are 15% more effective and 21% more likely to stay in the organisation than the direct reports of average transitioning leaders.

    Organisations and senior leaders owe it to themselves to put emphasis on accelerating the transition when moving into senior roles. It makes personal sense, organisation wide sense and most importantly, business sense.

Do you know what being effective looks like within your context?

What are the expectations of your stakeholders?

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

Listen to the latest podcast on The Leadership Diet

Getting Unstuck

“So what’s keeping you awake at night?” I asked a client in a coaching session last week.

Being very honest he said, “I feel stuck”.

Many clients have a similar realisation through their coaching. Even just bringing this into their awareness provides some level of relief as they can now at least understand what is underneath their frustration, conflict, procrastination, insomnia, illness, unsettledness, crankiness, indecisiveness or however else it is turning up.

Being stuck is especially frustrating for people who pride themselves on being “doers” and those who “get things done”. Often there is great frustration with themselves about what seems to be an inability to “move forward”. It feels to them that they are in quicksand or mud. It is also mystifying for those around them who are not used to experiencing this unfamiliar version.

Our work with people in this situation is to shift their focus. Rather than continuing the struggle with themselves and the perceived inaction to shift away from the situation and untangle themselves from the overwhelming suffocation and paralysis of the issue.

Being able to get perspective and see the issue for what it is can be a challenging but rewarding practice. There are some simple steps to take to become ‘unstuck’. Working with a coach can be helpful to action these steps effectively.

  1. Step away mentally
    Rather than wrestling with the issue relax into the trust that all will be OK and, with exploration, solutions will surface and become clear. What is important at this time is to slow down rather than speed up.
  2. Map it
    Draw on a white board a graphical map of the overall issue and with ‘roads’ that could represent potential solutions.
  3. Quarantine it
    Put the problem aside to sleep on and only think about it while exercising or having a shower. It is astounding the frequency of times clients figure how to get unstuck when going for a run, cycling or showering after exercise.
  4. Make emotions physical
    If being stuck involves emotional reactions to people and particular

individuals, create a physical version using whatever is nearby i.e. markers, pens, glasses or cups as versions of the characters involved. Being able to ‘look down’ at the overall story, see the connections, often illuminates the real concerns devoid of emotional attachment.

While “stuckness” can be frustrating it is in fact a signal of an incredibly important and necessary moment in time for the person having the experience.

Uncertainty, especially when at intense levels, is often a sign that a problem is pushing us toward a new level of consciousness or knowing. ” Timothy Butler, in his book “Getting unstuck.

How dead ends become new paths”, calls this a “psychological impasse” and says we mistakenly regard this as checkmate instead of an open door. From impasse you can chart a new vision and path.

Humans naturally resist this impasse as we have deeply ingrained behaviours. The stuckness comes about as old patterns, choices and behaviours fail to satisfy the emerging desires – those we may not have consciously registered yet. We get stuck doing what we have always done and it is not helpful in achieving these yet unidentified and desired outcomes.

An impasse can result in an epiphany. In working with clients we put aside “mental models” to look at the world differently – to see new possibilities. What is scary is that to move forward in this situation we have to let go of the old. This requires courage and risk taking.

This impasse must lead to choice, then action. The leadership work is to identify what the most effective and risk appropriate process will be for them.

Whatever form your personal action takes it represents movement into unfamiliar territory.

As Tim Butler says “an impasse is not a box in which you are trapped. It is a door that you open to enter a brand new life. Open it.”

Where do you feel stuck today? Get clear and why.

Ready to face the impasse and open a new door?

What has spirituality got to do with leadership development?

At a recent online Leadership Summit, I attended recently, the word(s) spiritual or spiritual journey was used more than once. For a first-time attendee this might seem strange. They could be forgiven for thinking they had walked into the wrong conference! “I thought this was about leadership- not religion”, they might have said to themselves! Any they would be right. The conference had nothing to do with religion and all to do with developing leaders and leadership.

That got me thinking why the word spiritual?

Let’s start with a definition of the word spirit. One dictionary definition says spirit is “the principle of conscious life; the vital principle in humans, animating the body”. Another definition suggests spirit is the “non-physical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character”. Both definitions suggest that our spirit is the core of who we truly are- when we are overtly conscious of how we ‘show up‘ as humans.

When leaders go through leadership development programs, typically they start with the leadership fundamentals. These can include learning about the difference between a leader and manager: how to delegate, how to recruit the optimal staff, how to deliver performance feedback and how to have ongoing coaching conversations. Later they will move onto more business related topics such as setting strategy, creating an effective operating rhythm for their team or organisation, understanding the financials of an organisation, marketing tactics for segmented customers, merger and acquisition diligence and the like. All of these are fundamental aspects of organisational-based leadership.

As the leader performs and received promotions in the organisation, their own development is eventually capped at the level of their own consciousness.
What this means is if the leader does not understand the impact they have- both positively and negatively in the organisation, the own development stalls. Their leadership impact then stalls or goes backwards, particularly the more senior they get. In fact at the recent Summit, some speakers illustrated how their leadership liabilities actually cancel out the positive impact of their leadership. At some stage the leader will need to overcome their own liabilities as a leader.

The very friendly leader who has an inherent need to be liked will need to overcome that trait in order to make tough decisions.

The aloof leader who is really intelligent and wants us all to know that will need to overcome their desire to be seen to be intelligent and move towards a place of assisting the organisation through sharing her wisdom.

The control freak who pushes all outcomes and (believes) they hold high standards will have to learn that they are also pushing people out of the organisation.

Through their own need to be overtly in control of everything they are telling everyone else that the leader does not trust them. They are showing everyone else that Darth Vader is in town in the form of their leader! Eventually the organisation moves to not trusting the leader and the leader has to go.

This is what is meant by a spiritual journey.

If we believe that spirit is the purest sense of who we are as humans, then we also believe that our ego gets in the way of that illumination. Overcoming our own humanity (needs to be liked, admired, in control etc.) is our personal transformation. That becomes the complete change in our character and nature where we ultimately get out of our own way.

The control freak who pushes all outcomes and (believes) they hold high standards will have to learn that they are also pushing people out of the organisation.

In the 2015 released book, Mastering Leadership, Anderson and Adams outline the development needed for leaders to get out of their own way. The journey is not easy! It would appear that self -awareness is neither sexy or interesting, but absolutely fundamental for the leader to be able to overcome themselves.
Sogval Rinpoche, the Tibetan leader, once observed when leaders who are developing towards their own spirit are courageous enough to taste and relate to their own fears. This is not seen as a failure but rather is seen as a purification.

I really like that notion of purification.

It suggests that we all have very noble intentions as leaders. We genuinely hold a deep desire to be the best we can be. But our humanity as expressed thorough our own fears- drives us to get in our own way and not fully realise what we actually could.
Therefore, the journey to realising our full potential-despite the cliché involved- is actually a journey to remember who we already are (our inherent spirit) and to let go of the fears we are bringing to the table as leaders. The starting point is acknowledging for ourselves that we all naturally have desires and beliefs that may no longer be working for us- such as the need to be in control of everything your team does.

Two questions come to mind that are useful to ponder?

What behaviours do I exhibit that are possibly getting in the way of your team?
What fears or beliefs sit beneath that behaviour that I might need to re consider?

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.
Listen to the latest podcast on The Leadership Diet

Enjoy the silence – That’s all you will have when we are gone

For those of us in Australia, 1 September marks the beginning of Spring. This season brings the promise of longer, warmer days and the re-emergence of things dormant and new life. It is with all these things that many people start to make plans and “refresh” practices.

This thinking was in my mind as I was sitting with a client in a Melbourne coffee shop. In a wide-ranging conversation over a few hours we discussed many things including the life lessons that have come his way. His career started in corporate, then transitioned to an entrepreneurial career where he owned the business and now has transitioned back into corporate.

We talked about the thrill of being your own boss as opposed to being a “cog in the wheel” for someone else. Many entrepreneurs and business owners relish this level of autonomy. With that autonomy, however, comes the responsibility to actually do the work and deliver an output. There is no hiding when you don’t earn a salary.

Many business owners work long hours to ensure their business is successful and sustainable. Over time this way of working becomes the norm. Priorities such as family often drop down the line as work demands take over. Of course, business leaders do not have dominance in this domain, many different walks of life put work as the number one priority.

For my client in Melbourne, this came sharply into focus when one evening he arrived home to an empty house. Silence. On the table was a post-it-note. It read, “Enjoy the silence. This is what it will be like when we are gone.”

Wham! Straight to the heart and core of his potential future. Unless he “refreshed” his approach to family, his wife was letting him know she and the kids would soon be leaving. All he would have left would be the silence. It would be the silence of loneliness. Not the silence of contemplation and reflection that we often crave.

Unfortunately, his situation is not unique. Many people, mostly men but increasingly women, face this issue. The desire to succeed in work or as a business owner becomes uni dimensional. Men still largely view their roles as the breadwinners in families, according to a recent HBR article. The idea they are doing all this work for their families still permeates through modern biology from “hunter” days.

Yet, as this client was told in no uncertain terms by his almost estranged wife, that providing for the family was the price of entry to having a family. Just turning up in the family is not enough. Being present as a husband and father is also a requirement!

This incident and challenge is not unique to this client. I regularly talk to organisations and other clients on how to successfully integrate the working component of life into the overall life plan. This is quite different to the out dated idea of work life balance. It recognises the valuable place of work within the broader framework of life, it is not a one size fits all approach and needs to be fluid to meet an individual’s changing needs and stages.

At different ages and stages in life we experience reasons to seek flexibility from work. The birth of children, the first few weeks in child care when they bring home every sickness one can imagine, elderly parents, study leave and many other events.

This is a complex topic and often more difficult that we think. Society has changed significantly over the last few decades particularly in the last fifteen years. Today our society is completely fluid. We are able to shop 24/7 anywhere in the world. We consume news online from a raft of news outlets. We check in on Facebook when we arrive at a new restaurant and then upload pictures of our meals onto Instagram for friends to like.

With this there are emerging trends and expectations. We have immediate and constant access to information and are “connected” and “contactable” nearly everywhere at any time. A recent insight into the recruitment practices of emerging companies in Australia suggest that unless candidates are available 24/7 they will not get a second interview for a potential position. This is gauged by how often they return emails between 9pm-midnight. If a prospective candidate does not reply in that time window they are not deemed suitable for this organisation. That may seem extreme compared to traditional industries. But society is actually contactable 24/7 and work follows society. A little like art imitating life.

So for our friend in Melbourne…he “refreshed” his approach. This didn’t mean that he had to give up his passions. It just meant getting clarity on his life plan and the role of “work” within that relative to his other priorities. He is still happily married ten years later. Occasionally he misses the adrenaline of owning his own business but readily admits that for him his family relationship is more important – that’s what he was doing it for in the first place.

What does it being Spring give you the inspiration to “refresh”?

20 reasons that suggest you need to lead differently

In working with executives over the last 20 years there is a common starting point our discussions inevitably touch on at some point. That is reflecting on and gaining clarity about ‘What kind of leader do I want to be?” and then “What kind of leader am I’?

This reflection is useful and informative but stops short of the really powerful and sometimes confronting question(s) of “What does the organisation/ role/ team/job need of me as a leader?”

This great question forces different thinking and quickly cuts straight to the core.

I was reminded of this last week when a client earnestly was talking about the leader he was and that this was not appreciated by those around him. I asked him straight out,

“John, what kind of leader does this organisation need you to be right now?
Let’s start there…”.

He was silent for a few minutes and then said it was a very difficult question.

The reason it is a difficult question to confront is because the answer to it often requires something different of the asker than what they are doing or what they have always done. Usually it asks them to lead differently. John and I went on to explore how the organisation was in a fast changing environment and in fact he was not keeping up as a leader. Not unusual but inevitably terminal. He walked out with clarity on areas where he had to change his leadership.

Here are some of the main pre-emptive situations that might encourage you to ask the question. Then you need to decide what to do with your insight.

  1. You inherit a new team
  2. You are now leading a much bigger/ diverse/ geographically spread team than before
  3. Your team is facing a different market than before
  4. Your team is struggling in a difficult trading environment
  5. The organisation’s products /services are no longer cutting edge
  6. The organisational capability seems to be slipping
  7. You are not sleeping well
  8. Your desire to be in control is in fact overly controlling
  9. Your desire to be nice to everyone is letting conversations slide
  10. Your desire to be really clever is seen as being really arrogant
  11. The exit interviews suggest all is not well in the camp
  12. The organisation is growing faster than expected
  13. Sales are booming
  14. The market is changing fast and the team is not adapting
  15. Your desire to execute fast is ahead of your relationships internally
  16. You are hiring the people that suited the organisation three years ago but not what it needs for
    next year
  17. Your job is at risk
  18. You are bored
  19. Your family is getting more distant from you
  20. Your boss is telling you to lead differently

So when you are considering your leadership start with:

What does the organisation/ role/ team/job need of me as a leader?

Then decide what it is you need to change, as the leader.

Otherwise you may be taking up someone else’s role.
That of the leader!

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

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10 transitions every leader needs to master

Dean, a leader with many years of international based leadership experience, confessed even he was tired of managing another phase of change in his organisation.  He told colleagues that he was suffering from ‘transition overload’.

This is not surprising – the more senior the leader, the increasing number of transitions they have to manage.

William Bridges published “Managing Transitions” in 1991 where he focussed on the transition as opposed to the change itself. A transition is the internal manifestation of that change that happens within the individual – the psychological impact of the change itself. Whilst this might seem subtle, it is significant as he clarified the emotional impacts the individual experiences during each stage of a transition.

Bridges makes a key point that people experience change even if they don’t agree to or desire it. He highlights three zones of transition people go through when they experience change. He said they are:

  1. Ending, Losing and Letting Go
  2. The Neutral.
  3. The New Beginning

Some of the major emotions experienced in the Ending Zone include denial, shock, anger, frustration, stress and ambivalence. The notion of a “sense of loss” is often described at this stage. The loss may be of history, identity, personal strength or control.

In the Neutral Zone, people often describe their experiences as resentful, low morale, low productivity, having anxiety and being sceptical about the future.

The New Beginning, when handled well, brings energy, openness to learning, renewed commitment and optimism for the future.

As leaders get more experienced they also experience many types of transitions they need to overcome. Here are ten such transitions.

Rising in seniority brings leadership complexity, competency stretch and the need to increasingly lead like a business owner rather than a line manager.

Joining a project team, taking up a functional role, going overseas for a period all bring new learning and a shifting of identity. The opportunity in the Secondment is, of course, the attractor. Letting go of the current role to experience the new one is the difficult part.

Inheriting a new boss
Research shows that a supportive boss who stretches and recognises their direct reports gets the ‘best out of their people’. Inheriting a new boss means you have to adapt to their style and approach (which may or may not align with what works best for you). This can be made more difficult if there was a positive relationship with the previous boss.

Inheriting a new team
In an ideal world every leader would get to choose their own team. We don’t live an ideal world of course. A promotion often means inheriting a pre existing team that has had a history of working together which pre dates the new leader. Both the leader and the team will experience transition until a new operating norm is established.

Parental Leave
Increasingly, people, most often women, are returning from extended Parental Leave into operational and leadership positions. The transition of adjusting to parenthood and then leaving the baby at home is a difficult one. In environments where working mothers are not the norm, the transition for the team members to working with a colleague who is often a part time colleague and full time mother can be difficult.

Return post illness
Similar to parental leave, many employees and leaders have to take extended time due to illness. Returning to work is often staged and full of anxiety for the individual in question. Managing potential resentment from colleagues and ambiguity from trying to establish a new or return to the previous rhythm is a leadership activity.

Expatriate assignment
Moving overseas as an expatriate leader is an obvious transition. In fact the assignment holds multiple, simultaneous transitions which are often being experienced for the first time. The expatriate will need to transition to a new country, language, country culture and way of working, go to market conditions, working for new leaders while their family comes along for the ride. This is a difficult set of transitions and it is not usual for this group of leaders to fall over.

Culture change
By nature, organisational culture change is crammed full of transitions at every systemic and individual level. For some leaders a culture change is welcome and needed. For others it is seen as a threat as it may challenge how they have led in the past. People will transition at different paces. The leader needs to be actively cogniscent of these differences.Industry disruptions

Disruptive industry change forces whole companies and sectors to change or become obsolete. The world at large has witnessed this in 2020. Individuals transition at dramatically different speeds. Some adapt very fast and pivot to the new need. Many fall by the way side wondering what happened.

Personal identity changes
As life progresses we often stop to reflect on ourselves, what do we believe in, what do we value, what serves us now, what no longer serves us that might have in the past? Life events such as redundancies, death, divorce, having children, losing friends all have been found to force contemplation and re orientation. By nature, this is a transition.

Whatever approach is best is up to the individual but wisdom suggests the leader needs to “honour the past but embrace the future”. Failing to do either will result in leading a team with no one following or potentially, leading a team into oblivion.

What parts of transitioning do you find difficult?

What do you need to let go of in order to move ahead?

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

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