By Andrew Lester, Managing Partner, Carr-Michael Consulting

2011 will be a significantly different year from last year. The challenges we face are very different. The market is changing, competitors are changing, customers are changing but are we changing? Are we making the most of our true capabilities in 2011 or are we held back by our own image of ourselves?

Real leadership is about making other people in the team more effective because of our input. And the team here can mean almost anything. In 2011 there is far more intra company collaboration and inter-company collaboration than ever before. Most SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) exist and survive because “the team” is not just internal to the company. The team includes support from specialists and suppliers keen to make a difference.

It’s also true that a lot of owners and directors of SMEs carefully maintain their image despite what is going on inside them. In a changing world this is time consuming, exhausting and counter-productive. Maintaining the image takes a lot of effort, effort that could be better used to help the team if only the “image” would get out of the way.

So, maintaining a set image reduces effectiveness. Working differently and changing your image of yourself and how others see you are absolutely essential in 2011. The world has moved on, and business owners and leaders need to do so themselves.

For example, Carr-Michael regularly works with business owners who are highly intelligent. It is their intelligence that has developed innovation technically or commercially (rarely both) that customers value. However their need to be seen to be “intelligent” is a critical part of their image, their own sense of self worth. As such for some of them, their own need to be seen to be intelligent gets in the way of learning from others or taking risks. One such individual highly valued intelligence in others, but only in an academic sense. She is technically brilliant herself, but does not manage human interactions well. She sees no need to do so. Her pure intelligence has never been questioned and has always got her through. But faced with the challenges of 2011 where relationships and creative open minded thinking is needed, she has acknowledged the need to change how she sees herself. She is clear that she needs to re-invent her sense of leadership and learn to listen and respect the input of others around her. She also now knows that this increases her influence within the company and with suppliers and customers. She also knows it will change her image of herself and she will have to come to terms with that.

A few years ago we worked with a manager whose image of himself was a great leader who never made mistakes. He loved analysis and planning but regularly avoided decision taking until it was almost too late and the decision made itself. Nevertheless his self image as a great analyser and decision maker remained intact (to him). We coined a useful phrase: he was a great mathematician, but he couldn’t add up. In other words he focussed on the analysis itself not the commercial gain. Leadership in 2011, more than ever, is the recognition that influence drives leadership and leadership comes from knowing when to listen, and enable as well as when to lead. For 2011 the mix will be different...will you be?

Please feel free to comment by contacting me: andrewlester@carr-michael.com - Andrew Lester is Managing Partner of Carr-Michael Consulting, specialists in growth management and business performance improvement.

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