Letting Go of “Me” to Lead!
Written By Roxi Hewertson, SLS Partner
We know for sure that highly effective leaders get much better results. There is no debate about this, and you know it’s plain old common sense. Don’t we all want better results? Don’t we want to get more bang for the buck?
Leadership Is a Discipline, Not an Accident
Those of you who already lead people may think you got to your position because you are a good leader and were recognized as such. “They hired me, didn’t they?” The sad truth is that you, along with the rest of us, probably got your first and even subsequent leadership roles by luck, not by design, and sometimes even by default.
Leaders find themselves responsible for the work lives of other people because their knowledge, performance, and technical skills as an individual contributor were exemplary, or at least pretty good. Learning to become an Olympic athlete, an engineer, a teacher, a scientist, or an opera singer requires one to learn increasingly difficult skills; to practice, practice, practice; and to receive regular feedback on one’s performance again and again.
This is also true for becoming, practicing, and remaining a skilled, effective leader.
Leaders and Individual Contributors Require Opposite Skill Sets and Motivations
From the day we were born, all the applause has been about “what I have done well,” not “what we have done well.” Look at your life and your experiences and then fast-forward to where you are today. I think you’ll agree that for most of your life, your personal performance generated the lion’s share of your positive rewards or negative consequences. It wasn’t a group of people; it was you, you, and more you.
The exception is teamwork within or outside your family. Whether you were on a great team or a lousy team, you probably learned something about leading and teams. Unfortunately, few people integrate those lessons when they become leaders at work. The fallback position for most of us is what we know best and think we can count on the most – and that would be… “Me.”
The skills, attributes, and even motivations required to lead people successfully are entirely opposite from those required to be a successful individual contributor. Consider this: if the roles and skills weren’t so opposite, it would be a walk in the park for someone to move seamlessly from being a great violin player to being a great conductor.
In the first case, the violin player is responsible for his performance. While the conductor is responsible for her skills, her real job is knowing how to get the most out of each person, so that everyone’s work will blend well and produce magnificent music. She succeeds only when the entire orchestra succeeds.
Leading others is an emotional and intellectual seismic shift that will quickly separate effective leaders from ineffective ones. Making the transition from being an individual contributor to being a leader can seem as difficult as swimming from New York to London alone, without a life jacket.
What skill sets and motivations do you feel are required to lead?