By Ania Lichota, Executive Coach, Inspirational Speaker on Leadership Mastery working with Barrington-Hibbert Associates
I have always been intrigued by what it is that makes a successful leader. My search for answers led me to business schools, various executive training programs, onto a PhD program, into boardrooms, on a fair share of mindfulness and meditation courses, and to the top of Mount Everest.
Here I share my perspective on the lessons she learnt during my highly successful 17-year career in the corporate sector and high altitude mountaineering.
First steps to success
When we start our careers what counts above all is enthusiasm, aptitude, hard work and tenacity. The focus is on ‘what’ we are doing and our environment is forgiving. People are happy to give us a second chance and the next promotion is within reach as long as we focus on doing what we do well.
Working in a team however requires a change of perspective. We need to understand how our output becomes somebody else’s input and vice-versa, and how all contributions create a cohesive unit of work. We now have to take full responsibility and accountability for every success and failure. We need to think I am the team and we need to care about what others are doing and makes their failures and successes our own.
Managing teams requires another shift in understanding of how we achieve success. This requires less thinking about ourselves and more about the people who work with us. The ‘how’ you do things becomes important rather than ‘what’. We need to learn to ask good questions and then listen. When you stop operating in ‘telling’ mode and start bringing out the best in those around you, you have made a massive step towards leadership that creates followership.
Achieving results through others
Your first leadership position again necessitates a change in thinking patterns and attitude. Leadership is achieving results through others. You need to ask people to deliver, which involves having a high regard for yourself as you will inevitably face negativity or apathy. You also need to strike a balance between being friendly and supportive and sticking to your direction and goals, all of which calls for a different level of personal maturity.
Here you need to be ready to stand up to people who undermine teamwork and confront their behaviour. You also need to enthuse and energise people to be creative, to empower them to experiment and remove obstacles in their ability to learn and grow. When you embrace the notion that as a leader you are only as good as your team you will remove yourself out of the picture and start unconditionally investing in your staff.
Preparing for the marathon
How do you build and preserve your personal, physical and emotional energy to last for the corporate marathon? Caring for yourself becomes essential. Do you think about what you eat and drink, your posture, and how you breathe? On a psychological level, how do you shield yourself from the impact of stress and intensity? What about the loneliness and impact of that on yourself and your environment? What about balancing family and work? Becoming aware of these factors can help you protect yourself from burnout but most of all when you retain personal power over yourself, your emotions and your intellect, you excel.
When you lead through the ups and downs of economic cycles another shift in perspective is required. You need to be able to re-align yourself and your resources back to the long term objectives every day and keep yourself and your team motivated. You will have to make unpopular decisions and still energise people to execute on them, and you will need to learn to let go of your own opinions and assumptions and of people who don’t share yours or the company’s values. To do this you need to get to know yourself well, develop inner strength and integrity, become aware of what is going on in your mind, to get hold of un-useful thoughts and personal habits, filter them through and relinquish those which hold you back.
Working with your inner coherence
As a head of a department or a company it becomes more important than ever to stay strongly connected to the inner workings of the organisation. Leading into the future requires inner coherence, presence and authenticity, which radiate out of you. Leading into the future also calls for a bold vision, which you can only develop when you are not surprised by what’s happening and acknowledge what is without judgment.
Over the years I’ve discovered that successful leaders intuitively understand that they must continually develop and hone their leadership skills. Personal growth and conscious investment in our own development is a prerequisite for mature leadership. After all, you can only take others as far as you got yourself.