3 Lessons from Leaders Who Move Up

There are some common themes that come up when I talk with my coaching clients who have recently moved up in their leadership roles. Some of them moved from entry to mid-level, while others assumed senior leadership roles. Some of them moved up internally, while others moved from one organization to another. Despite these differences some common challenges and success strategies started to emerge that led these folks to seek out a coach to assist with these challenges.

1. The skills and competencies that made you successful in the last role aren’t what are needed in the new role.

Folks often share than in the last job they became highly competent and skilled. That competence helped them stand out and was key in them getting the new job. The trouble is that the skills that they honed so carefully, were so proud of, and helped them get the move up, are skills and competencies that aren’t needed in the new role. You might be highly effective at reaching people individually as an advisor or manager, for example, but in the new role you manage teams. You might be highly competent at a skill like planning events or creating training session, but in the new role you don’t do any of those things. Now you are responsible for the long-term vision.

Caution: Some leaders become so comfortable with their old skill set that they restructure their new role similarly. Be careful that you don’t reorganize the new role to match your existing skills and comfort and not what the organization needs from you.

Success Strategy: Develop a love of learning. If you want to keep advancing as a leader, being an engaged learner will benefit you most as the people, role, industry, and world change. Above all else, develop a love of learning about yourself. Nothing serves a leader better than greater self-awareness.

2. Lack of feedback.

As leaders move up the amount of feedback they get goes down. Supervisors of more senior leaders aren’t as attentive due to their own pressures, and rarely meet one-on-one if at all. Feedback from colleagues can be mired with political positioning. Feedback from subordinates is often limited or tainted with their desire to impress or be liked. As a result it is rare for senior leaders to get regular, direct, and constructive feedback. Those who get it are either fortunate or have put lots of structures in place to help them get that feedback from those around them.

Caution: Some leaders eager for feedback find that they only seek it from those they connect well with in their organizations (biased). Still others only pay attention to (obsess about) the feedback from those they don’t connect with in the organization (also biased). Both are out of balance and don’t provide feedback the leader can use to better serve.

Success Strategy: Create structures to get that feedback systemically. When these structures are built in and systemic folks get sincere feedback. Seek variety in format, people, and questions. You might even seek feedback from someone outside the organization who can be impartial, has perspective, and is focused on you.

3. Hard to keep your own rudder.

This is hard for any leader under pressure. Especially as you move up the pressure increases with the consequences of your decisions having greater and greater impact (major financial decisions, other people’s job on the line, viability of the organization, and even life or death for some leaders).  As the pressure mounts (from within and from others) keeping and not losing your own rudder about what is right and what is wrong gets more difficult. Many leaders lose sight of their vision, values, ethics, self-care, and the big picture under such pressure.

Caution: Some leaders give up their own rudders and take on the rudders of those around them or decide that just being reactionary is their role.

Success Strategy: Find someone who can help you keep your own rudder. Perhaps a family member, confidant, mentor, or peer in another organization, can play this role. New leaders hire coaches for this very purpose. They are looking for someone who is outside the environment, someone who can help them keep their perspective and remind them of the foundation of their leadership (both personally and professionally). A coach can tell you when you have gone astray, when you are being reactive and not proactive, and when you are compromising things that you wouldn’t compromise.



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