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The world emerging around us today requires a new breed of leadership – leaders able to think and act with imagination, personal passion and lead organizations facing complex and dynamic challenges. Yet leaders are continuously faced with the very real, very tangible day-to-day block and tackling that keeps them from having the capacity to be the visionary leader they hoped they would be once they got that seat at the table.

Or perhaps, this expectation of a “new breed” is the problem itself. Too often in my work with executives and leaders in different industries and stations in life, I see new leaders too mired in their operational work to be the leader the senior management envisioned them to be. While their practical skills, achievements, expertise, and masterful job knowledge were essential in facilitating their rise to leadership, these attributes contribute little to facilitating their transformation into an effective leader. The organization has different expectations, their sphere of influence and control has expanded and changed, their time horizon has changed, and the balance of transactional work to strategic work has reversed. Yet even though they have new roles, and new expectations, these new leaders continue to work using old patterns of behaviors, believing what worked before will work again.

It’s normal to expect this. In fact, this reliance on past behaviors as a predictor of future outcomes is the source of our confidence, our esteem, and our belief in our ability to “do the job”. It is second nature; so engrained that it shows up at work, as well as our personal lives.

Past behaviors must evolve to serve the new leadership role

A couple practical examples of relying too heavily on past behaviors come to mind.

1. Putting actions behind your words

We recently met with the President of a company who complained his organization needed to take more responsibility, have better problem solving skills, and more capability in project management. Seems reasonable, but then we heard from the team, “the president has an opinion and that’s what we did”, or “wants us to think outside the box, but we were not given the opportunity”.

The President himself was busy doing lots of things to help his organization with the best intentions, but his actions and behaviors were having the opposite effect. In fact, in his zealous need to help the organization and empower his senior leaders, he began to design the tools and forms he wanted them to use – need I say more?

2. Letting go and having trust

On another occasion I talked with a peer. He told me of an obstacle he faced when consulting on a major organization transformation project. The Vice President leading the transformation refused to create design criteria. He aligned with his team about the case for change, and the vision, but expressed that he did not want to create design criteria. As we continued to discuss the issue I asked, what is his style, his need for control, his comfort level with not knowing in his day job? I asked the consultant, what do you think it means when he resists creating design criteria. In effect, what will need to happen as a result of that work not happening.

This was a VP with a high need for control. By not creating design criteria he was in effect, inserting himself in every decision, in controlling every step.

Often in my work with leaders there is some waking moment:

1) The leader acknowledges he or she is not getting the organizational response they want, or…

2) It becomes apparent as a result of a significant moment in a project, or…

3) External events and new challenges create new expectations for leadership capability.

These milestone events are a great time to do some personal work and tap into the natural desire and passion of leaders to be successful – to begin to create both personal and organizational transformation.

Making the shift from transactional to transformational is substantial. It requires a leader to have the courage to look inside, self reflect, identify what is meaningful to him or her and begin to put forth intention and commit to it.

Be real and be clear: Building Self-Awareness

Coaching is the process of integrating personal and business objectives with deep personal insight and vision. It is externalizing what is second nature, so the leader can accept and make choices about their current interpretation of themselves and their behaviors in order to make changes that open them up for personal and organizational growth and above all, forward action. In the previous examples, it is clear there was a lack of awareness about the behaviors and their impact on the organization, but even more important, there was a lack of self-awareness about how the behavior was obstructing the leader from reaching his or her desired ambitions.

The methods and practices we use in coaching employ many of the same models we use in collaborative change and learning as well as learnings in emotional intelligence and behavioral science. But the real work is always with the leader. Throughout the coaching process, a coach works with the leader to self-correct and to self-generate in order to create the self-awareness and the skills within themselves to continuously develop. Only when the leader is open to new and better ways and continuous learning can those around him/her be transformed. Only when the leader themselves tap into their passion can they hope to inspire passion in others.

Ask yourself – which type of leader are you? Passionate? Imaginative? Inspirational? Transactional? Some exotic combination of these? No matter how you identify yourself, there is always an opportunity to develop complementary facets to your orientation to your work and life in general. Coaching with an external, neutral partner can be a fast track way to developing a deep capacity for objective self-reflection, which ultimately leads to understanding and a clear path and plan for your transformation.

What “fires you up” and are you ready for it?