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09.25.18

What Happens Now? A Look at 7 Reasons Leaders Stall

What Happens Now

T
HE ABILITY TO REINVENT YOURSELF is core to your success as a leader. The ground is shifting under your feet. The only way to stay relevant and therefore effective is to invest in building your skills as a leader.

As you take on more responsibility, the demands on you as a leader change. If disrupting yourself isn’t part of who you are, you will get left behind. If you are just doubling down on what you’ve always done, you will miss the opportunities. When conditions change, you have to change too.

That’s why John Hillen and Mark Nevins wrote What Happens Now? to help you remain a leader. “If we are to generalize, we can say that you advance as a leader, the technical and tactical skill you need—distribution expertise, for example—pale in comparison to the strategic and interpersonal.”

Complexity Skills and Sophistication Skills

They divide leadership capabilities into two groups: complexity skills and sophistication skills. Complexity skills are often what got you in the door. Complexity skills are those abilities that help you to deal with complexity “in a traditional-management-centered way, such as knowing how to design and implement processes and systems, and having the required technical and functional knowledge.”

Sophistication skills are behavior and mindset related. They are about changing how you do what you do. “How you pull back and understand the bigger realities of the job. How you approach doing the job having done so. How you think and behave so your people eagerly receive your leadership. Getting the how right is the challenge when it comes to sophistication.”

Too often, we don’t look at ourselves when we run into problems. We look around and ask what’s wrong with them. Warren Bennis and James O’Toole wrote, “Most of us wear the concrete shoes of our earlier successes.”

We tend to focus on and fall back on Complexity skills rather than grow and develop our Sophistication skills. Complex challenges are easier to wrap your mind around. You can measure them. Sophistication challenges are not as clear. They can be more painful as they get into more personal aspects of who you are as a person. But distinguishing between the two challenges is critical.

Our leadership stalls when we try to use tools for solving complexity issues when we “need to develop the capabilities to lead in a more sophisticated way.”
Complexity challenges, which often come with growth in scale, can make your job bigger in ways you can’t anticipate. Sophistication challenges, which usually come with change in kind, make the job broader in ways you don’t anticipate. If you’re like most leaders, you’ll display more comfort with complexity and decidedly less comfort with sophistication.

Responding to increased levels of sophistication demands that you do something much harder. You must fundamentally rethink how you spend time, where you focus energy, how you communicate, with whom you develop relationships, and how you look at the big picture to understand when, where, and how to act.


Leadership Skills

As you rise as a leader, sophistication skills take on greater importance. What are the new capabilities on which your leadership success will depend? More importantly, which skills that you value today should you deemphasize—or resist exercising at all? No matter how good your complexity skills are if you fail to access your sophistication skills by regularly challenging yourself as to what and how you do what you do, you risk stalling as a leader.

The authors identify seven inflection points that can trigger a stall in your leadership.

Purpose Stall
When you fail to create an organizational story that delivers meaning and purpose
To escape this stall, you must assess whether you are inspiring people with a meaningful story about the organization’s mission. You then must craft a narrative that carries your people forward on an inspirational, shared, purpose-based quest—a story that can guide their actions when you are not there to give specific direction at every new turn.

Teamwork Stall
When you can’t align your team to deliver high performance as one
You have to assess your effectiveness in aligning your team’s priorities as well as your own critical role in creating a high-performing team. You then utilize time-tested tools to straighten out misalignment and bind people together into a true “A-team.” Become more inclusive and focused on alignment and accountability.

Stakeholder Stall
When you can’t amplify your influence among important stakeholders
To deal with this stall, you begin by assessing who holds power in your universe of internal and external constituencies and how you can engage them to achieve your desired outcomes. In turn, you “lift and shift” your influence to stakeholders you don’t control but who will pave the way for your future success. Develop the ability to persuade and influence rather than control.

Leading Change Stall
When you struggle in your ability to explain and lead change
Determine how readily employees and stakeholders receive and embrace your messages about change, and then offer new behaviors and practices for engaging people, so they grasp, welcome, and act on your initiatives. Combine empathetic understanding with discernment, creativity, and determination.

Authority Stall
When your authority slips in the eyes of followers
Assess your own sources of leadership authority and invest in your own self-development. “Why would anybody want to follow you?” Build behaviors that will inspire people to follow you based on trustworthiness, empathy, breadth, balance, and gravitas.

Focus Stall
When you fail to focus your time and energy to have the most impact
Anticipate this stall by examining how you allocate your time and energy. Learn how to divide your focus among “do,” “manage,” and “lead” tasks and mastering the perennial secret to high-powered leadership—a commitment to delegating. What should you be doing and what should you let others do?

Leadership Development Stall
When you can’t develop your own leaders or prevent them from failing
The most crucial and most often overlooked stall is overcome by assessing your leadership talent and committing to coaching and developing new leaders as your main job. Become a leader of leaders, multiplying your own leadership success through the success of others.

What Happens Now? is a great look at some of the most critical issues in leadership. The authors walk you through each of these stalls to help you overcome or avoid them. Of course, self-awareness is key here—understanding the impact you have on others. Elevate your view and understand where you are and determine where you need to be. They call for a three-part approach: become more aware of what’s changing in your environment, know where you are, and then act deliberately to develop capabilities that will change your behaviors and thinking.

Every stall is an opportunity for growth. When you deal with each stall head-on, “you position yourself to evade the pain and consequences of being caught in future stalls. When you ask yourself, ‘What happens now?’ you’ll be ready to answer: ‘I will look inside, see myself as others see me and as they want and need me to be, and act to remake myself.’ You won’t blame your troubles on your organization or people, or ask, ‘How do I change the institution to overcome these challenges?’ You’ll see yourself as part of the slowdown. And then you’ll be ready to become you own ‘Best Leader Ever.’”

This is not a process of abandoning the complexity skills that got you where you are, but instead adding to and developing “your leadership repertoire with a new set of executive capabilities, mindsets, and behaviors” to help you to overcome the new challenges of sophistication that will come your way.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:00 AM
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