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Leading beyond your comfort zone

Michael Lewis

A manager avoiding many pitfalls and leading effortlessly

While great managers excel at managing people and projects, they are often less comfortable with new technology and media than the teams they lead. Michael Lewis, Managing Director at leadership development and training consultancy Different Dynamics suggests ways to make the most of this shift in knowledge

For many industries, especially where technology is involved, the traditional line management model is dead. Take the marketing industry as an example. For this sector, the past five years have seen an unprecedented shift in the way things are done, with the internet, social media, mobile marketing and viral marketing being just a few of the channels that have not only entered the arena, but become pillars of integrated campaigns. Agency heads may well have presented them conceptually in pitches, but that is likely to be as far as their expertise goes and they will be relying on more junior ‘digital natives’ to carry out this activity.

As a result, there is growing tension as company chiefs have the power to control the business but don’t always have the strength of knowledge to do so, while their junior staff may have a greater understanding of certain techniques or markets, but are less likely to have the business nous or authority to make big decisions. All of which sounds like a recipe for anarchy, but it doesn’t have to be.

Empower your staff

To manage this shift in knowledge, directors need to use a new leadership model where people at every level are empowered to become leaders themselves, as each individual will have unique skills and knowledge that can make a difference. But changing the way things have been done since time in memoriam is not easy. These days leadership training doesn’t just need to focus on new techniques, but on how to democratise businesses. Leaders need to see their position in the business not as being at the top of a pyramid, but rather the hub at the centre of a wheel. This central position enables them to have a helicopter view of the business so they can act more as facilitator, inspirer and mentor, rather than being over-involved in all the operational level decisions. As a result, they gain the freedom to truly lead and provide strategic direction. Otherwise, if they try to maintain their position as the master of everything, they are likely to be on the fast track to a nervous breakdown.

Being open and authentic brings staff on-side so it becomes less about individuals creating their own powerhouses and more about everyone working for the good of the business overall.

They have to develop the courage and bravery to ‘let go’ with more junior staff, giving them authority to take leadership in their own area of expertise. However, this has to be done in a carefully controlled way. Rather than providing a prescriptive process on how to do something, people need to be encouraged to think for themselves and create their own solution to achieve the leader’s vision. Effective delegation needs to be done responsibly, though, by giving people SMART objectives (Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) so that everyone can agree up front what the goals are and know what is expected of them. It’s essential to have regular reviews that ensure the approach is working so that tweaks can be made to keep things on track. Also, it’s important to bear in mind that not everyone will want to lead, but they should have the opportunity to choose.

Use your head and your heart

Leading beyond the comfort zone also requires learning how to unlock emotional intelligence and bring some ‘heart’ into the business. Being open and authentic brings staff on-side so it becomes less about individuals creating their own powerhouses and more about everyone working for the good of the business overall. Emotional intelligence is also important because the head of today’s democratised business, having entrusted more power to others, needs to be more sensitive to how people are feeling and whether there are any issues that could impact down the line. Without a candid and honest business culture, it is more likely that any difficulties will be hidden until it’s too late to sort them out.

When leaders first embark on the journey to democratisation, it can feel quite daunting to lose some control, especially as democratised leadership undoubtedly has risks and can lead to a slower way of working until everyone gets used to the new distribution of ownership and responsibility. Yet, the adoption of a ‘pull’ rather than the traditional ‘pull’ (command and control) approach to people management can be transformational for a business in terms of improved productivity, staff engagement and retention of talent. It provides a shared of understanding of the business vision and greater empowerment makes people feel more loved and valued. hen leaders take the plunge, we have seen businesses become totally re-energised and the new vibe can also be compelling to customers and clients. Today’s extraordinary leaders see themselves not as managers, but as conductors of talent. Just like a maestro, their job is to inspire their people to make beautiful music – even if they don’t know how to play all the instruments in the orchestra.


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