Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Transitioning into senior management – Part 20: leadership as role model

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on August 1, 2011

This is my 20th installment in a series on joining and working as a member of an executive team (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 158-176 for parts 1-19.) And I turn in it from the more routinely considered responsibilities of the job, as circumscribed by functional tasks and responsibilities to discuss matters of character and overall behavior. That is because leadership is best carried out by example and by role model. People follow those they see as seeking to do the right thing and not just say the right thing.

I have written a number of times in this blog about mentoring and its role in leadership. Here, I focus on one of the most critically important applications of that observation – in the executive suite and as people responsible to organizations from there do or do not lead by example.

I have met tremendously skilled technicians who could not lead, even thought they did understand the details and see the overall patterns that they had to lead towards. They could not teach others or communicate effectively in conveying a larger message of where the organization was and where it should and could go. Or they could not get past their own egos to inspire others to reach out towards fulfilling their best. They could not bring others together to work towards a clearly articulated common cause. And the teams they sought to lead split apart as a result. There are a number of features and details that I could cite in a post mortem of their efforts to lead but bottom line, they could not find it in themselves to help the members of their team find it in themselves; they could not become role models and could not lead.

I write a lot here about technical details and in analytical terms. Here, I turn to a particularly important soft people-skills area, and one that can be easily set aside and to the detriment of both would-be leader and those they would lead.

• Who, looking back over the span of your life and career, have most inspired you to do your best and to contribute most effectively to team efforts?
• What did they do, or if you can’t identify any particular decisions or actions as standing out, what qualities did they have as people that you found inspiring?

Few people when asked this type of question come up with some specific technical skill or knowledge set as their defining reason for being so inspired. Technical and hands-on skills come and go, coming into vogue and falling out of cutting edge currency at least as quickly. It is the qualities of person that stand out and that carry meaning long term.

This, as I stated above, is my 20th posting in this series on leadership and on serving as a member of an executive team, and the first 19 series installments can in many ways be viewed as vignettes of leadership contexts and challenges. I could just as easily have come up with a different set, though I add that I would probably have included variations on several I have presented here in any listing. But long term success and ability to move beyond the merger and acquisition challenge stage, for example calls for more than just specific skills and experience at that stage.

• Senior management and leadership really are, ultimately more about soft people skills than they are about anything else.
• I have written about that repeatedly in this blog and in the Guide where I have noted for example, that the more senior you are on a table of organization, the more time you spend working with people who have hands-on skills and expertise you do not yourself have. Leadership becomes a matter of communications and negotiations skills, and of vision, and yes of leading as a role model.

Try the exercise I offered above and write down the names of your role model leaders, and in brief, what made them stand out for you as leaders. This can and probably should include people who you met and were inspired by outside of the work world as well as from your professional career. Include teachers, athletic coaches and others where they come to mind as offering stories to share here. Now what can you do to take at least one step towards following their examples. Did they really listen and include? Were they particularly patient where that quality was called for but still able to make rapid decisions and follow through on them when that was needed? Were they wise and sharing of their knowledge and insight? Did they know when to organize others and when to work hands-on? What specifically made them stand out for you? Follow their examples as a road map towards becoming the type of leader yourself, who others would include on their lists.

At least as of now I am planning on adding one more installment to this series, on individuation and on finding your own path as a leader. I will simply add that while effective management and leadership call for some basic skills and approaches as core requirements, great managers and leaders are unique – each their own person and a one-of-a-kind.

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