What does it take to be a leader? We know that being a boss and a leader are two different things. Leaders can make an impact from anywhere within an organization, though to drive change, we need to see true leaders in the C-suite. In a recent conversation with Emmanuel Gobillot, who is an expert in this area, we talked about his new book Unleash Your Leader: How to Win in Business.
What he found when writing this book was that despite all the help given to senior leaders, what’s missing is the last step: how does one actually become a senior leader? He dove right in and through extensive research, discovered that there are three dimensions that are amplified, or perhaps just different, for senior leaders.
- Vertical agility – the idea of moving back and forth between operational and strategic roles very quickly
- Boundless perspective – how to get multiple viewpoints about the business while managing stakeholders with several demands
- Steadfast impact – the ability to remain consistent and still adapt the message
Emmanuel likened peoples’ views of senior leaders to being on an airplane. People often assume that 36,000 feet up in the air you can see everything for miles…it’s sunny, it’s relatively easy, right? Then the people lower in the hierarchy who are, let’s say, at 500 feet, have a much different view. They see the buildings, the details – and the struggles. But the notion that senior leaders can see what the future holds is just not true. To be effective, they need to see both pictures: 36,000 feet up and ground level.
Bringing the two together is about balancing short- and long-term tensions, Emmanuel explained. Vertical agility is about how to create a mindset to make the most of every moment. It’s building the right capability for change. It’s delivering what’s needed today to enable change tomorrow. Vertical agility is a mindset more than a technique; we want to move away from polarizing views or trying to meet in the middle, which we know usually doesn’t make anyone happy.
Getting into that mindset can be hard. Emmanuel suggested always keeping a head full of questions. Asking questions like:
- “What is the capability I and my team need to deliver our desired outcome?”
- “What is it that I’m developing?”
- “What do I need?”
- “Can I do it today?”
These will help senior leaders think about how to change their business.
On the other hand, there are questions that will help senior leaders think about running their business, like:
- “How can we use the tools we have now to change the organization?”
- “How can this task help develop the capabilities I need in the future?”
Senior leaders need to balance the needs of today with the changes coming tomorrow. Find ways to reconcile the two, not find a middle ground. It’s a habit, a mindset shift. Not a solution.
Part of what senior leaders also struggle with is the balancing act of working in the business, working on the business, and working out of the business. We know that working in the business is obviously crucial; otherwise, we don’t have a business. Working on the business is often overlooked and doesn’t deliver immediate value, but it’s more about the processes that senior leaders can leverage to further develop their team so the business is still alive in the future.
The key is finding time to work out of the business. This is where disruption happens; knowledge that might be relevant in the future. And senior leaders need to keep the right ratio between these three activities to be successful. That ratio depends on the business and which stage of maturity it’s in.
Emmanuel shared a favorite excerpt from Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography in which she wrote about Winston Churchill. In her book, she wrote that for Churchill, the highest dilemma of leadership was fighting the war; if you lose, then the world is irrelevant. At the same time, Churchill never got his party reelected after the war was over because he never thought about peace. He just didn’t have the time.
If senior leaders spend all their time in the business, well, you can see the analogy here. That’s the difficult part of leadership.
Emanual’s book on unleashing your inner leader, and his newest book, Crisis Leadership, are both excellent resources, and I encourage up-and-coming and existing leaders to put them both on your summer reading list.
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