How do you know you’re a leader? The common quip is, “Look behind you and see if anyone is following.” True, but there’s more.
We become leaders when our perspective shifts from the task at hand to the greater goal.
I recall a situation in my career when I realized that I was no longer the technical expert, but was leading others towards a common goal. That was my transition into leadership. Here’s how it happened:
I was leading the financing on a large, complex, international project. There were multiple partners, financing entities, contractors, and government agencies. Everyone had their own team of lawyers, too. While the overarching goal was the same, i.e. close the deal, how and at what cost was different for each stakeholder.
I wasn’t the lead on all aspects of the deal…just the financing. Yet the financing was the roadblock, so I found myself in the center of discussions on almost every issue.
I recall feeling uncomfortable not knowing every technical detail as it evolved. I also recall spending hours in conversations with each individual stakeholder trying to figure out what they were motivated by and what was most important to them.
Nine months later, we closed the deal after previous attempts by other teams had stalled for three years. I was surprised when, upon closing, several people complimented my leadership and credited me for moving the deal forward.
Without realizing it, I had shifted my perspective during those nine months from being a financing expert to being a leader.
If you had asked me at the time what I was doing differently, I would have had no awareness of what you were talking about. I was focused on driving the deal forward (and by the way, feeling guilty about the technical part).
Looking back, here’s what I observed about how my perspective had shifted into one of leadership:
I let go of knowing and controlling every detail. We had plenty of competent team members handling the details and keeping me advised.
I didn’t get caught up in the emotional tumult that went on when there was conflict among the parties. Emotional reactions can take us off track.
I kept my perspective broad and my eye on the end goal. This was a long journey. I couldn’t get distracted or discouraged by the ups and downs of every day. I took cues from the daily issues, but my focus was strategic.
I focused on managing and motivating the people. There were many individuals involved. Even though they worked for organizations, each person had their own way of handling their respective responsibility. I came to realize that one person considered his job to be part of a mission for a higher cause. Another was motivated by fear of the project going under. There were as many motivations as there were individuals. Addressing their concerns and communicating in a way that mattered to them was critical to the collective success.
I allowed myself to “show up” differently. This was uncomfortable, and I wasn’t always aware it was happening. I remember walking into the office one Monday morning where one very upset partner was pacing the room waiting for my arrival. He was not happy with a shift in strategy I had implemented over the weekend. I felt strongly that my strategy would get us an important move forward, even though it felt like a short term backslide. I remember drawing up my courage and simply, calmly holding my ground. This was an uncomfortable new position for me to be in – one of setting direction, in the face of dissent from influential others.
In my coaching practice, I work with clients to help them shift their perspective. Their shift may be into leadership, or in how to handle difficult people or situations, or a shift in what they want from their career. If you would like support in making a “shift” in your leadership, sign up for Elevate Your Leadership Skills coming in March. This virtual exclusive small group program will take you to a new level in your leadership skills. For more info and to register, click here.
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