The speed of business is fast. Really fast. And, it’s getting faster all the time. Collaboration has been reduced to meetings, which aren’t all that productive. Advancing initiatives means sending emails after hours, and accomplishing tasks means passing them on to someone else. Sound like you?
The real trouble begins when your leadership skills are the only ones required, and you’ve spent so much time in managing that you aren’t confident what to do, or how to do it. Here are common challenges, and ideas to address them:
Comfort – A common story I hear from C-suite folks is that they aren’t in touch with the day to day projects any longer. And that’s a good thing for the organization, albeit challenging for the individual. Most managers are promoted on their technical or management prowess. They are not cross-trained on how to leverage leadership skills, or even provided opportunities to develop leadership skills. That means when a situation elevates, your default is the technical skill that got you there. Being comfortable in solving the issue trumps motivating or coaching your team to solve it.
At the point of promotion ask for leadership development training, opportunities, and expectations. Already in the role? Ask for learning goals and direction on your leadership skills from those around you–not just above you.
Email – We rely on email heavily. Whether to answer questions quickly or provide complete thoughts in a dialogue, we know we have a record of the conversation that we can refer back to when needed. However, email isn’t the right modality for connection – meaningful conversation, addressing conflict, or inspiring performance. These things are best done via voice or facetime and are actually more efficient that way too!
When you find an email crosses two exchanges, time to alter the discussion. Pick up the phone, walk down the hall, or set a meeting (if absolutely necessary). Try using these same things to answer a quick question, as it helps establish the relationship and also provides you the opportunity to hear more than this specific question that may guide your response in a different direction.
Meeting – Between running late, starting late, lacking structure, device distractions, and side conversations, meetings have lost their effectiveness. In conversations with clients I hear about meetings they have to attend, even though they admit they will sit quietly and use their phones to stay up on emails.
Consider the investment of your meeting before calling it – the sum total of the compensation for the hour of time being spent PLUS the hour of productivity for those in the room. Have the people who need to be in the conversation attend and send minutes out to those who need the information. Set operating agreements for meetings in your organization – include technology, interruptions, side conversations, and agenda limitations as points to agree upon. One last thing – just because Outlook schedules in hour increments doesn’t mean your meeting has to be that long. A 20-minute meeting is likely to be far more efficient than a 30-minute one.
Delegation – Another place where technical skills get in the way of leading. How much easier is it to ‘do it yourself’ than to delegate it? And, how many times have you asked someone else to do it, then corrected it, or redone it when it’s returned? Micro-managing is dangerous for morale, and it is far from sustainable for leaders. Take a few deep breaths and understand that no one else is you (thank goodness!). Hand off projects with clear instructions and timelines/deadlines. Offer feedback on the project, and if that requires your team member to correct/change something, let it happen. Build your actual deadline to allow for this, especially in the beginning.
The flip side of this is passing off work that doesn’t get done and is returned unfinished where you must complete it to meet the deadline. Leaders take this opportunity to have a performance conversation, the difficult conversation about expectations, time management, communication, and technical skill that is why you were advanced into this role.
“Softer skills” are harder – The expectation is you will be a master in your trade, and metrics of success guide advancement. Self and social awareness is an evolving skillset that is not easily measured, and therefore not often addressed. Time for some self-reflection – what do you do well, what would you like to do better? Is communication easy, until it’s a conflict discussion? Time to reflect on how conflict conversations change the game. Is time management challenging with ‘all you have on your plate’? Time to consider where you are efficient, and where you check out during the day.
Ultimately, leaders are charged with coaching, developing, and mentoring others – both up and down the organization. Setting aside one of these obstacles gives you fresh energy and a great opportunity to examine the strengths you want to build.
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