What opportunities can you imagine?

Remember, you are now part of a wider leadership group that includes fellow leaders who also report to your boss in a formally structured sense. Your success as a senior leader in the broader organisation will now be determined more by how you engage with the other people at your level, and the culture you develop with them.

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Paul had been a very smart contributor, and then a successful leader of small, rapidly deployed project teams. But his new senior leadership role was becoming overwhelming and frustrating.

Paul had recently been appointed to the biggest role of his career, as director of shared services for a large scientific research organisation. At first, Paul thought that success in his role was all about driving tight project management. He was very good at this, and his great strength in precision project management had brought him great success.

But in his new leadership role, he was not getting the support of his peers on the executive team. This meant project timelines were blowing out, and he and his team were getting the blame. Paul had tried to push through by producing detailed project plans with clear timeframes so his executive colleagues could organise their teams. But instead of getting commitment and support, he was criticised for his ‘pushy’ style. Some of his peers became disengaged, and became too busy to meet with him or didn’t review project plans by the due dates he had mapped out.

Fortunately, Paul is very open to unlearning and relearning, so he took advantage of some coaching support to help make the necessary changes to his way-of-being and leadership practices. His goal was to connect the efforts of his team to the whole organisation. Paul focused on two of his peers in particular, who were the executive leaders of the two biggest divisions.

The most significant impact of Paul taking the same project-man- agement approach that he was accustomed to using was that he unintentionally alienated himself and his reporting leaders from the executives leading the biggest parts of the business. Now, rather than producing detailed project plans and sending them out, he listed some basic project parameters and then spent time in genuine co-design with his peers to better understand their requirements and workflows. This helped to create an action plan that would work for everyone.

Beyond that, Paul set up regular catch-ups with his peers with the goal of deepening his understanding of the strategies and plans in each part of the organisation. When his peers voiced criticism about the service levels they received from Paul’s team, Paul worked at listening to and understanding their concerns rather than simply leaping to the defence of his teams.

Over a six-month period, Paul began to win the engagement and support of his fellow leaders. The colleague who headed up the biggest division still found Paul’s style a bit blunt at times, but now felt that Paul better understood the priorities of his division, and appreciated his positive and constructive intentions.

Paul also realised that he tended to cushion his direct reports and their teams from some of the harsh feedback of his peers, and decided to not do that anymore. From this point on, he immediately passed on all feedback to his team leaders, positive and negative. At first this was troubling for them, but over the months they realised that it was better to know what people were really thinking about them so that they could keep improving their services to the organisation.

Paul had realised that detailed project plans and forceful project management were not going to be enough to ensure his team’s important work was integrated into the flow of the organisation. What had ensured his career success to date was about to derail his future, and he understood that he had to become a leader across the organisation and a supportive colleague of his peer executive leaders. He had to put more time and energy into influencing to integrate.

The teams you now lead don’t exist in isolation. They are one part of a much larger system both in and beyond the organisation. As a leader of leaders, your focus must shift and expand.

You are now the representative, the custodian, the advocate and the translator of your team, the work they do, and the outcomes they deliver to others.

You are most likely now a member of a senior leadership team. This team is just as important as your own team, and in some ways more so. While advocating for your team is admirable, it’s easy to slip into the trap of thinking that leadership is all about supporting ‘your people’. 

Remember, you are now part of a wider leadership group that includes fellow leaders who also report to your boss in a formally structured sense. Your success as a senior leader in the broader organisation will now be determined more by how you engage with the other people at your level, and the culture you develop with them.

Now it’s more important to be able step back from your teams and their work so you can look at them from the outside in.

To see your team from a more objective standpoint as one component of the broader organisation is important for coordinating your efforts. You need to become a two-way channel: not only are you promoting the objectives and work of your team to the broader organisation and beyond, but you are also channelling the formal and informal performance feedback and reputation of your teams back to your direct reports. You don’t help your leaders by patronisingly ‘protecting’ them, but rather by bringing the reality of their broader environment into their field of vision.

Part of this reality emerges from engaging with leaders in other areas of the organisation, and partners or customers outside the organisation. An effective thing you can do is to continually educate your leaders and the team about what is going on in this wider environment. There are lots of creative ways you can do this. Integrating the work of your team into the current and future work environment is the responsibility of the leader of leaders.

It can also be an interesting aspect of your leader-of-leaders role, and open you up to further development in your role and even future career opportunities.

Being Leaders offers a leadership program that provides the practical and helpful tools to effectively make the transition into a leader-of-leaders role. With tailored workshops, self-reflection tools and leadership coaching, the program will equip you with new practices that enable you to succeed in bigger leadership roles.

Transform your people from overworked to incredibly impactful.

Contact Being Leaders to find out more.

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