BlogEd BenierLeadership Development

To Be Or Not To Be. How High Achievers Become Great Leaders (Or Don’t)!

By October 21, 2014 No Comments
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I remember a couple of years ago sitting in the office of a senior manager who I was coaching. He was very highly regarded by almost all the 600 people in his division. I had just in casual conversation asked him a question, “how often to you feel a deep sense of satisfaction with what you have been achieving”? He looked at me with a bit of a wry smile and said, “Do you know I haven’t really told anyone this, but I really struggle with that”. I was a bit surprised and so probed a little further “What do you mean by that”. The reply was “well I started my working career as an engineer, and got a deep sense of satisfaction in the work I could churn out in a day. If there was a difficult problem that was when I was at my best, pulling that problem apart 6 different ways until I came up with a successful solution. At this I excelled. I miss the days when I could reach the end of a week and look back at what I achieved, at what I had knocked over”.

“And now I asked?” “Well now I don’t really produce anything. I attend lots of meetings, have to listen lots to others solving problems, and I spend a lot of my time with my people helping them step up and find ways to get it done. I don’t do anything tangible.”

This revealing insight into the mind of a high achiever got me thinking…

Surely if you are a go-getter, a self-starter, a can do person you automatically translate those attributes into being a great Leader? I started to do some research and found out I was wrong!

Stephen Drotter, James Noel and Ram Charan in their book The Leadership Pipeline talk about the fact that leaders go through different transitions as they move up the organisational hierarchy. The transitions they speak of are in mindset & beliefs, skills and also use of time. The degree to which they are successful at making these transitions determines how successful they are at any given level or not. Some would say that failure to make a successful transition results in the Peter Principle – rising in an organisation only to your level of incompetence! There are other consequences too from not being promoted (and not understanding why) to being managed out of an organization.

So how can you make the transition?

My senior manager friend was struggling with one such transition. If I am a manager of managers and thus in a role that requires pure management and leadership (with very little doing the work or ‘being on the tools’), how can I feel a sense of satisfaction? He had yet to come to terms with “letting go of valuing the doing work, being the sole problem solver” to “valuing developing people and achieving results through others”. In order for him to make this transition it wasn’t really a matter of skills – what he should do differently – but ultimately how he viewed himself and the value he created by leading people. In this situation it was not what he needed to DO differently but who he needed to BE.

What do I mean by that?

Well I’m glad you asked. In her book Walking the Talk Culture guru Carolyn Taylor talks about a transformational concept called BE-DO-HAVE, the actual concept itself is startling simple. Even I could get my head around it very quickly! The premise is this: in order to HAVE what we want, we need to DO what it takes but will be most successful at this when we work out who we first need to BE.

OK, I hear some of you thinking, “that doesn’t make sense” (no I haven’t installed CCTV cameras in your brain). But there at first glance seems something amiss with it, illogical almost. Work out who you need to BE??? Aren’t leaders supposed to BE themselves, isn’t that what authentic leadership is? At this point it may even be worth quoting Oscar Wilde “you should be yourself, because everybody else is already taken!” Well ole Oscar had it partly right. However we can consider that the BE component is about our identity. Our identity is how we see ourselves, a set of very rigid beliefs formed through the neural superhighways which were built on our decades of life experience (with a good pinch of genetics thrown in for good measure).

Here’s the important part!

Our identity, who we believe our self to BE is the sum total of our beliefs about ourselves. And beliefs can be changed. A little skeptical about this? Think back to if you ever believed in Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy, and do you still believe? Ahhh…so you changed a belief. But now we’ve strayed a little from where we started this blog. So let’s loop back. High Achievers do not make great leaders unless they change their beliefs. About achieving results themselves to achieving results through others. Changing the belief they must solve all the problems to empower and enable others to do the problem solving. Do many achievers find this easy? Hell no! It requires working on the BE component. Originally I needed to BE the proactive doer. Now I need to BE the mentor and coach to others. And most importantly make the transition to really valuing this and getting a deep sense of satisfaction from it. To skip working on the BE and focus on the DO often results in unsustainable behavior change, and reverting back to those old loves of doing, getting into the detail, making all the calls, solving the problem and being the one everyone comes to, to make it happen. This usually results in building a rod for their own back and they have to work ever longer and harder to try to be successful.

Now what?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve completed de-briefing the 360° feedback of a high achiever only for them to say, “ok I’ve got a lot to improve on. What do I do?” The response I give them these days is “the first question is not what you need to DO, but who you will need to BE in order to make a step change in your effectiveness”?

Marshall Goldsmith talks about the need for high achievers to have to temper their driving focus to win and sense of extreme urgency when they become Leaders. Pressuring people to perform can work in the short term but usually activates people’s security needs and they will eventually withdraw or resist at some point. High achievers can modify these urges but only with work and only with defining who I now want to BE. When they are sold on this concept they can then channel their goal achieving drive to win into turning themselves into the leader they really want to BE.

Source. The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company. January 11, 2011. R. Charan, S. Drotter, J. NoelSource. Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success. April 26, 2005. C. Taylor

Ed Benier

Ed Benier

Ed is a director at Modal and delivers leadership solutions that create sustainable, positive behaviour change, with the focus on achieving a “leadership culture” within organisations.