Stealing fro the future – extract

The print copies of the book arrived today and it looks fantastic.  Very exciting.  Here is a brief extract from the book and below are links to the paperback, ebook and the launch livestream.

Exercising Leadership

The very instant we decide to take responsibility for some sort of change, and someone chooses to follow, or is influenced by us, we are leading.  We have all done this at some point in our lives, at least during a childhood game.  When we do it repeatedly, on an increasing scale and with some wider strategic intent, we are developing our leadership.

Just because you show leadership, you may not be ‘a leader’.  And even when you have the hierarchical responsibility, you can and should switch roles to manage, follow, learn or be a team player when relevant.  What makes leadership behaviour consistent is a disciplined focus on standards in the pursuit of a shared Cause (the vision, purpose and mission we are pursuing) and Conditions (the values, behaviours and habits required to achieve the Cause, more on this later).

There is an almost universal challenge in the way organisations appoint ‘leaders’.  In most organisations, management and leadership are the only routes to promotion.  It is exceptional to offer a pure expert route, where people can be promoted for their technical skill without having oversight of and responsibility for other people.  Universities, some manufacturing, and a small number of engineering businesses promote experts, but it is unusual.  In addition, expert routes rarely offer equivalent remuneration and status to leadership routes.  Yet our organisations habitually intertwine expertise with leadership.

In business people are generally promoted because they become expert at something, like design or accounting.  Once expert enough, that individual is promoted to lead teams of designers or accountants.  So far so good.  But deep in our limbic brain we need to feel a sense of self-worth and inclusion.  So when our role requires an expertise we don’t really have, such as leadership, and we are poorly supported to learn and develop, we tend to retreat and spend our time on the expertise that got us promoted; the design or accountancy skills that give us that sense of self-worth.  As a result, leadership activity is pushed to the side of our desk and we typically feel very stretched, and risk micromanaging the expertise and under-performing on leadership.

Leadership is full-time work and a skill that needs to be built into expertise.  

“What got you here, won’t get you there.”
Marshall Goldsmith

There is a crucial mantra at the heart of leadership: “everything that can be delegated, must be”.  This means that we have to delegate the expert activity that previously gave us our sense of self-worth and focus on an activity that initially fills us with self-doubt.  If we seek to lead, we must invest all the time we can in learning and practising the art of leadership.  No construction firm would ask a team of obstetricians to build a suspension bridge, and yet we ask financial experts, or subsea engineers, or visual merchandisers to become leaders all the time.  Thinking of the supertanker, this is a little like asking the helm, who is used to steering the ship by pressing buttons and programming course corrections into a computer, to suddenly steer a 32-foot yacht by handling a wooden tiller.  In organisations, the ‘captains’ who promote people into leadership are regularly asking for this degree of behaviour change from managers and experts.

These principles were at the heart of one of our coaching assignments with a technology leader at a universal bank.  The leader had proven himself a great technical strategist and accordingly had been promoted to head a very large department of technologists and coders during a time of radical change.  He was ambitious, but inexperienced in leadership.  His personal values didn’t allow him to mimic the culturally common Boss-type leadership he saw around him.  As a result, he was taking on far too much work, trying to lead the department and create the technical strategies himself.

The first step was for him to delegate, decline and defer work, in order to create the psychological and emotional bandwidth to lead.  With the space he created he was then able to define himself differently and accept the accountabilities of his leadership.  

One of the very few institutions in our society to take leadership seriously is the military.  In the military, leadership is trained and practiced from a young age and throughout your career, with a focus on the qualities and disciplines needed to maintain sight of the bigger picture and build the respect of followers.  As a military leader’s Reach gets wider, skillsets are developed in tandem with Perspective, using a continuous education approach involving Staff College or special-to-arm training at different career stages.  Motivation is rarely addressed directly, although service is a fundamental to military leadership, with everyday maxims like ‘Leaders eat last’, and ‘Serve to Lead’ underpinning the theory that leadership activity is driven by purpose and not status.

As a military officer, at 21 years old, Mark was responsible for a Troop of soldiers (Troop is Royal Artillery nomenclature for a Platoon) on active service.  Many of the soldiers were older men who had been on active service two, three and four times before.  Mark’s youth and inexperience counted against him, but his leadership position was not at issue because he showed essential competence plus an ability to listen to the wider experience around him in order to make better decisions.  On active service, decision-making is always contextual and situational.  For Mark, effective leadership meant he did not need to be the best soldier, but he did need to be agile at understanding the big picture, co-ordinating ideas, and re-shaping tactics in service to the vision.

Mark was taught to appreciate any given situation and problem-solve from that place.  Often his were not the ideas implemented, and some of his decisions were wrong.  Sometimes discussion was possible and sometimes command decisions had to be made quickly and alone.  However, his general approach of listening and examining experience created a depth in relationships, so that when diktat was necessary, or the decision proved wrong, there was still willingness to move, follow and operate.  Boss-style leaders would likely have felt it incumbent upon them to (appear to) know everything, becoming the fount of all control.  Young officers of that style failed frequently and were left by all to hang in the wind, cheeks burning.  In the words of Mark’s sergeant major, “Sir, there’s a reason why the blokes listen to you.  It’s because you listen to them.”

Unlike the military, organisations tend to expect experts to succeed in leadership simply because they are the best in accounting or design.  If you are the best expert, they seem to believe, you are ready to lead others in that expertise.   

There is very little evidence that this approach works.

Buy the paperback

Buy the e-book

Join the launch livestream

Holos helps make change easy. We help organisations develop their leaders, map out and deliver the changes required to achieve sustained success even in a highly disrupted environment.

At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.

Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.

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Neil Crofts

+447803 774239


About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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