Working with exceptional leaders over the course of my career has generated many insights. When I am coaching someone new to the world of senior leadership, I often remind them that their presence, i.e. appearance, words, physical health, and body language, make a major impact to the work they are doing. Given how employees watch senior executives all the time, many leaders miss these subtle but important point. Self-awareness is the first step to being a successful senior leader I remind them.
Many years ago, I taught a workshop at a major national conference. Once I got there, I discovered that my mentor who had taught me the material I was teaching was keynoting the same conference. When I saw him that morning, I apologized for not discussing this situation with him in advance. He replied that it was not a problem and that we should have lunch together after his keynote. Once the noon hour had arrived and we were seated together for lunch, he explained to me that everyone notices who you are speaking with at any given time once you start leading and teaching. In particular, the key is to realize that everyone notices whether or not it is authentic or just for show. Just before we got up from lunch, he reminded me to “never guild the lilly.”
A year later, I returned to teach at the same conference. When it came time for the noon meal, I went to the same place to eat. Since very few had arrived in the dining room, I found a nice quiet table to prepare for my afternoon workshop. In the midst of my thoughts, someone behind me asked if they could join me in this quiet place. I arose and responded “yes.” Much to my surprise it was Bernie Siegel and his wife, that year’s keynote speakers, who sat down with me. Over the course of lunch, the three of us talked about many topics including children, health and the funny things that cats do. Upon reflection years later, what impressed me the most was their genuine nature and the health of their relationship. They were people of high authenticity. I have learned from this and numerous other experiences that presence begins with self-awareness, continues with authenticity, and ends with respect.
The second thing I coach up and coming senior leaders about is the importance of perspective. Often, leaders loose perspective in the area of context. In the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I call this context blindness. Here, we can see the whole organization but we can not see the environmental context within which the whole organization is working and moving through at any certain time period. For example, during a SWOT or PESTAL analysis within strategic planning, it is common for me to hear people talk about baby boomer parents, who are sometimes called helicopter parents. However, until very recently I had not heard much talk of Gen Xers as parents. The new term for them is stealth fighters. Google the term sometime this week and you will discover some interesting new perspectives.
For me as an executive coach, I believe the loss of perspective often comes down to intellectually laziness. This is not about the ability of many executives to consume vast amounts of information. I see this on a daily basis. But it does come down to the lack of willingness and ability to see something from different perspectives. In short, the key to being a successful leader is to see and understand the past, the present and the future possibilities all from different perspectives.
This week, be more conscious of presence, and practice looking at ideas from different perspectives.
Have a good week,
Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257