10 Essential Behaviors for Emerging Leaders

Real power is measured by the ability to affect choices and changes.

My favorite work involves sharing ideas with emerging leaders on the realities and challenges of leading in an environment of volatility and ambiguity. In a recent setting with a diverse group of early-career and first-time managers, we worked together to create a manifesto for leading today. The list below reflects a blended view of our mutual perspectives on succeeding as a leader. The energy and enthusiasm from this emerging generation of leaders for getting it right was palpable and comes through in our joint work-product.

1. You lead the climb, taking risks and securing the path. No leading from the back. You take the risks, grope for toe-holds with new strategies and organizational change, clear away the obstacles and secure the way forward. And then you get the heck out of the way and let them do their work.

2. It all starts with trust. Without trust, there is no collaboration or creation, just grudging compliance. The faster you move to a state of trust with your group members, the faster good things happen.

3. Trust, plus accountability, equals magic. Values are important for leaders and teams, but if you have to start with just two, focus on trust and accountability. Trust gains support. Accountability sets the standard for everything else.

4. Focus on detoxing the immediate environment. No matter how challenging the workplace environment is, it doesn’t excuse you from creating a bubble of competence and success. You don’t control the larger organization, so focus your environment-creating efforts on your immediate team. Create a pocket of goodness, free from fear and focused on the work of creating great outcomes.

5. Leading is science and art: Master the physics of integrative thinking. Most dilemmas reduce to a set of unattractive decisions or choices. Instead of defaulting to binary choices, integrative thinkers harness the tension between the options to identify alternative opportunities and approaches.

6. Avoid myopia by changing the optics. There’s so much going on in our world today, that chances are the change(s) threatening your organization’s existence or offering opportunities for revitalization are happening far beyond your sector. Cultivate scanning and forecasting skills.

7. When communicating, flex and don’t force. It’s a diverse, multicultural world and it’s our job as leaders to adapt our communication and managerial approaches to team members and not the other way around. Meet and engage with them on their terms.

8. More science: Creating great teams is a chemistry experiment. Fostering high performance demands rigorous attention to the ingredients, temperature, and temperament of the group. Start with a clear and compelling purpose; limit the group size to low single-digits; provide active coaching; and watch and support closely, and you have a fighting chance at making magic.

9. Influence, not title, is the true measure of your power. Real power is measured by the ability to affect choices and changes. Titles are a poor proxy for real power. Instead, your ability to choose a path, bring the right resources to bear, and to drive results with others all describe your level of influence.

10. Sometimes you have to paint the wall. Enabling the emergence of creativity across your group is Job No. 1. Without creativity and action, there is no change or growth. (An example that resonated: after Chobani Yogurt founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, purchased a defunct factory from Kraft, he wasn’t certain what to have his small group of employees do first. So, he bought some paint and had them paint a wall. Instead of doing nothing, they did something. After that, they figured out how to redefine a market.) Instead of doing nothing, pick up a brush. You never know what you’ll create.

The bottom line for now: Leaders at all levels of experience are well-served by this powerful, focused, brief manifesto on what it takes to succeed and lead today. The unfettered idealism coupled with the practical, actionable ideas combine to create much of the recipe for reinventing leadership.

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