The Uncomfortable Attributes of Leading

So often I hear from executive clients that they want their direct reports to step up in the way they can depend on. It’s amazing how many times senior leaders say their “directs just don’t get it”.

What they need:

  • Attributes of LeadersSomeone they can send to a critical meeting.
  • Someone that thinks beyond current deliverables and is trying to find ways to improve the business.
  • Someone who holds for the larger vision and translates that vision downward in ways that get traction within their own team.
  • Someone that can hold their leader’s over-arching goals in the face of other agendas.
  • Someone they know can handle push-back and while advocating for their position without alienating others.
  • Someone who can get good “intel” and bring it back to them for planning or changing course.
  • Someone who “scans” the environment for clues to what is trending next. Or which way the wind may be blowing.

After coaching many leaders who report up to senior leaders, I have learned an interesting fact; many leaders don’t realize it is their job to do the activities listed above. They don’t realize it’s actually important for them to be proactive and do much more than just deliver on their stated goals to be successful leaders.

What stops them from doing it? Leaders can get too focused on execution and staying in the comfort zone of doing, doing, doing. They love the short term reinforcement that accomplishing difficult tasks brings them. Some are too worried about breaking the rules and potentially “stepping outside of the lines” and maybe getting in some kind of trouble. Again we have a comfort zone issue, not being comfortable pushing the limits. Some leaders don’t slow down long enough to consider what would significantly improve the business, due to moving too fast to not have to pay attention to the bigger picture. Others get stuck in taking care of their directs and making sure they deliver and develop. All laudable efforts, but again comfort zone activities that could be missing the bigger opportunity for where the business needs or could potentially go.

What you need (to succeed):

It’s your job to make things better, to look out past the visible horizon, to bring directs, peers and other leaders along with you in a vision for what is possible. It really is your job, and that is what is so hugely missing in so many leaders, and that is what executives are looking for in succession planning. To really take a chance and push out to greater possibilities! It takes courage to let go of what is familiar and comfortable, but if you really want to lead, comfort is a luxury that lasts for fleeting moments at best.

The next time you want a promotion or feel you need more challenge, ask yourself:

  1. What could really make a difference in our business?
  2. What opportunities are there that we haven’t tapped? What other parts of the business might want or need this?
  3. Who do I need to help me refine this idea and bring along others to align to it?
  4. What worries do I have about stepping out of my comfort zone?
  5. How can I stay true to myself and take a risk that may bring me the next step in my career?

One Response to “The Uncomfortable Attributes of Leading”

  1. Kristy Alley

    Great article, Stephanie. It is so easy to slip back into the comfort zone and forget our real purpose as leaders. Your comment on loving the short term reinforcement hits home for me. The satisfaction of helping those around me grow and flourish feeds my soul but it is a long road at times.


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