How I developed as a business leader, what served me well, what got in the way, and how my thinking has evolved.
I have been researching business leadership to explore, expand and challenge my current thinking. My objective is to better understand the issues and challenges that my clients are facing to become more effective as an executive coach.
I started off reflecting on my leadership journey, which ironically started with learning to follow rather than lead. When you think about it, this is valid for everyone, both in life and in business. I learned to observe and copy the practices and behaviours of the leaders around me (parents, teachers, peers and managers). I did this largely without conscious intent letting myself naturally gravitate towards those attitudes and behaviours that seemed to fit me best.
When I started work, I became more purposeful about developing my leadership skills to facilitate my professional growth and career progression. I adopted a more expansive approach to my development, adding research and experimentation to observation and emulation in a conscious effort to expand my frame of reference. I benefited enormously from the executive MBA course at Manchester Business School. This broadened my perspective, exposing me to a range of theories and management strategies as I took my fledgling steps into leadership.
Over the next twenty years, I held various leadership positions, including three CEO roles and pretty much every variant of Chief _ Officer from customer to commercial and marketing to information. During this period, my leadership style evolved as I gradually let go of the stereotypical notions of 80’s “hero” leadership to the more rounded and connected version that has come to the fore in the 21st century – characterised by what I would describe as the fundamental shift of focus from “Me” to “We”.
My evolution as a leader required me to come to terms with my introverted nature and shift my natural analytical thinker mindset to embrace my emotions. Thus, on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator MBTI®, I started as an ISTJ with pronounced “Introvert” and “Thinking” indices and fairly balanced “Sensing-Intuition” and “Judging-Perceiving” indicators.
Initially, I had a strong desire to be liked, which frustrated my ability to communicate effectively and act authentically, causing me a great deal of anxiety and stress. As I gained experience and with the support of excellent mentors, I learned to calm down, be myself, and use my empathy and humility to build a natural rapport with my peers. At times, I suffered from self-doubt and was fearful of failure. This resulted in me avoiding opportunities to get outside my comfort zone, which frustrated my ability to learn. As I matured and progressed as a leader, I overcame my introversion and started to unlock my suppressed emotions. My confidence gradually increased as I became more self-aware. I allowed myself to acknowledge that I was respected by my peers for my expertise and competence.
A fundamental tipping point in my development both as a person and a leader was having children. All parents will appreciate nothing compares with the power of love and feelings of fulfillment that come with having children. Life suddenly becomes richer and more meaningful. This was the defining moment when I became fully at ease with who I am, and my perspective shifted from “Me” to “We”. My career went into overdrive, I was driven by a powerful desire to succeed, fueled by my new parental responsibilities and supported by those closest to me. Finally, I found the courage to embrace my vulnerabilities and step into the leader I wanted to be.
Since I became a full-time coach, I have immersed myself in further research about leadership behaviour which has helped me develop my understanding of the attitudes and behaviours that characterise effective leaders and the things that typically get in the way. Here’s my summary of the elements that I believe are essential to effective leadership, together with some references for further reading:-
- Passion – the energy that drives you. Bruce Rosengarten, “Passionate Leadership”
- Vision – you may refer to it as your purpose or your “why”. This is what shapes your intent, inspires your followers and facilitates alignment within the organisation. Simon Sinek, “Finding your Why”
- Integrity – acting with integrity is the cornerstone that builds trust that is essential to credible, sustainable leadership. Dr Henry Cloud, “Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality”
- Authenticity – removes the barriers that can cloud and inhibit loyal and productive relationships. Dr Karissa Thacker, “The Art of Authenticity”
- Vulnerability – putting your ego aside to embrace the power of vulnerability allows the people around you to contribute their full potential. Dr Brene Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability”
- Empathy– practising the skill that enables you to truly connect with people on an emotional level, enabling them to perform at their best. Daniel Goleman, “Emotional Intelligence”
- Compassion – being compassionate helps you to create a safe environment that supports your staff, engendering loyalty and commitment. Chris Whitehead, “Compassionate Leadership”
- Self-awareness – honest reflection gives you access to your inner power-sources enabling you to leverage your strengths and values whilst challenging your limiting beliefs and behaviours. Fiona Murden, “Defining You” and Prof. Steve Peters, “The Chimp Paradox”
- Communication – the ability to connect and communicate with people in a focused and efficient manner. Dr Kim Scott, “Radical Candor”
- Resilience – the tenacity and mental toughness that sustains you, allowing you to persevere. Damon Zahariades, “The Mental Toughness Handbook”
- Courage – allows you to act in the face of uncertainty and to take risks embracing the essential learnings that come from failing. Brene Brown, “Dare to Lead”
- Thinking – taking time to be curious, letting go of dogma to give yourself the mental freedom to seek out what you don’t know allowing you to find wisdom and insight. Adam Grant, “Think Again”
If you would like to explore your leadership challenges and seek to understand any limiting belief or blind spots that may be holding you back, please get in touch.
Professional Business Coach, Mentor & Advisor