Creating a space to think

To be effective as a leader of leaders, it is essential to create a space to think. Too often, a leader ends up caught in the detail of a project and during this time they can fail to recognise what is ahead. Leadership is complex and there is ambiguity that comes with the role each and every day. To navigate the conceptual chaos and seek clarity, you need to be able to have time to reflect and consider decisions relevant to the business.

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To be effective as a leader of leaders, it is essential to create a space to think. Too often, a leader ends up caught in the detail of a project and during this time they can fail to recognise what is ahead. Leadership is complex and there is ambiguity that comes with the role each and every day. To navigate the conceptual chaos and seek clarity, you need to be able to have time to reflect and consider decisions relevant to the business.

There is a fallacy that has evolved in leadership discussions, that people in leadership roles must be ‘in the trenches’ with their team at all times. There is a time and a place for the leader to dive into the details, and that is when they are required to coach their people through. Even during these moments, it should be an approach that allows your people to grow long-term. Not just you getting it done, because it’s easier to do it yourself.

When a leader creates a space to think, they are able to look beyond the work of their team and consider how their work can be integrated into the work of other functions, or even beyond the organisation. We refer to influencing to integrate, in order to broaden the impact of your team’s work. This can only happen when you have carved out time to think and you can truly trust your people to be effective in their role. As a leader of leaders, your role is to shape the future of your teams and to influence the organisation beyond your own team.

Once you have created the space to think it is imperative to make influencing to integrate a planned practice. Influencing to integrate has three components:

• The perspective

• The picture

• The practices

The perspective

The perspective is about how you look at your role and organisation. What do you see as important? What really matters to the organisation achieving its purpose and outcomes? 

Perspective includes taking a systems view of things and looking for the interconnections, for how one aspect of the organisation feeds into and interacts with another (for example, how workplace culture and values influence customer experience). Taking a systems view will provide a portrait of your organisation that is far more complex than a simple series of linear relationships. Organisations are dynamic, living human communities, and sometimes things happen in the weirdest and most illogical ways! 

Your own mood is important in this as well. Working and leading in a mood of curiosity, wonder and possibility further open your perspective. Another important, but often neglected and even dismissed aspect, is empathy. Empathy is the capacity to put yourself in the shoes of another, and to have a deep understanding of and feeling for the condition of that other. This other can be an individual, a group, a whole society or even the whole world.

Empathy is not a soft, flaky feeling, but a practical and motivating capacity of your imagination. Empathy drives powerful, practical and valuable action into the wider world. Be really interested in the big picture. Don’t just live in your own little team bubble. Be passionately interested in what is going on with your organisation’s strategy, the environment that it is working in, and the shifts going on in the wider world that will have an impact on it.

The picture

If you want to get good at influencing to integrate, you will need a picture that you can keep and update, one that shows all the main interrelationships in your world. This includes relationships with peers, other leaders across the organisation, formal and informal connections, forces at play outside the organisation, emerging trends, and just about anything else you can think of.

A visual is better than a list or a spreadsheet because it can simultaneously show you a range of interconnections. You can create a map with pen and blank (not lined) paper, or you can use various mind-mapping apps. Make sure the app doesn’t restrict you to a predefined format that you can’t change: you want your map to be as flexible and adaptable as possible to the power and limitless scope of your imagination.

The practices

Armed with your perspective and picture, you are now ready to implement the practices of influencing to integrate.

Step 1: Plan

Book time for influencing to integrate into your calendar for each week and month. How much time you need will depend on your role and the organisation you are in. As a guide, work on spending at least ten per cent or more of your month on influencing to integrate practices. If you are setting up a new role or refreshing an existing role, this may go as high as fifty to sixty per cent.

Step 2: Scan

Scanning is the practice of continually having your curiosity activated as you go through your days and weeks. Be alert to informal conversations, information emails, news items, reports and workshops. Remember, it’s called ‘scanning’ because you don’t have to get deep into each of these things: you’re just skimming to pick up the essence of what’s going on. When you hit upon something that grabs your attention, you can do a deeper dive then.

What you scan will depend on your role and your organisation. If you are in a government department that looks after agriculture, then you’ll likely scan weather trends, global markets for farm goods, and advances in farm technologies. If you work in the lending area of a bank, you will likely scan for shifts in economic conditions, housing market demands, and emerging start-ups in lending.

No matter what field you are in, scanning involves keeping an eye out for all those things that are bigger than your immediate areas of work and responsibility. As a leader of leaders, it’s important to stay alert to shifts in internal thinking, strategies, authorities and emerging changes. 

The best way to do this is to be actively connected.

Step 3: Connect

Make sure you have regular opportunities to connect with the people that your team provides products and services to. These people could be outside your organisation, but more often they will be in another part of the organisation you work in. This is especially true if you work in teams whose job it is to support the effective functioning of the organisation – for example, teams like finance, IT, people and culture, risk, legal, and research and development.

Ideally, these connections and conversations should be face to face. This may not always be possible, but don’t just rely on email or messaging. Do all you can to have the opportunity for more open, exploratory, listening-type conversations in which your goal is to listen intently and gain insights and perspectives that you didn’t already have.

New leaders of leaders often neglect developing strong, collaborative relationships with their peers. But your peer relationships are vital to your success in your new role. Peers can be a bit like siblings: closely connected and dependent on each other, yet prone to irritating each other from time to time. Often, the work of your teams and the teams of your peers are closely interconnected, so it’s important to the organisation and to your own success to build and sustain solid working relationships with your peers. Make sure you get to as many formal and informal gatherings as you can.

Step 4: Educate

You also need to play an important role in continually educating your leaders and your teams about the bigger picture. You want to create teams of scanners – people who are interested in and passionate about how their work sits in the wider environment of the organisation and beyond. It’s particularly important to not buy into the idea that you must shelter your team from the harsh realities of the world. In fact, the more you educate them about what’s going on in the organisation and beyond, the more they will understand emerging trends and changes.

In a way, it’s about treating them like adults, instead of children.

People at all levels of an organisation are quite capable of feeling the discomfort of uncertainty while still getting on with their jobs. Engage your team regularly and often in understanding and learning about wider connections and emerging trends. Encourage them to look outside their own role and team. Invite your peers or leaders from other parts of the organisation to come and  speak to your leaders, or even your whole team, about what is going on in their world. Invite them to speak about their strategy, their current priorities, an exciting project they are running, or some of the tough challenges they face.

Being Leaders delivers a leadership development program, working with people who are navigating their leader-of-leaders role. Based on the concepts in the Amazon best-seller, Becoming a Leader of Leaders, the program provides practical tools and resources to help people transform from overworked to incredibly impactful.

Transform your people from overworked to incredibly impactful.

Contact Being Leaders to find out more.

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