Learning how to BE a leader

Developing mid-level managers’ leadership competencies is not about teaching tools.

A common question that arises in our leadership development programs with executive teams or mid-level managers goes something like this: “I’ve got situation X at work. Which tool should I use to help me navigate the conversation?” We’ve also heard countless times, “If I had positional authority, I could turn this department around.”

These teaching moments provide the opportunity to underscore that there are no pat answers. No tool A automatically applies to situation A. No concept B can be consistently applied to resolve conversation B. And, when you gain a new title (manager, vice president, CEO), you are not magically imbued with extraordinary leadership capabilities and competencies. Rather, if leaders cultivate their attention, broaden their perspective, and learn how to draw out and address the central concerns of others, they become the tool. Through their maturation process, professionals seeking to take on new roles and mid-level managers looking to enhance their leadership competencies develop a range of skills that help them be ready to effect change when the moment calls for it.

We frequently ask emerging leaders: “What does being a strategic leader mean to you?” A recent response captured the essence of cultivating versatile leadership competencies that can be applied across diverse scenarios: “You do not wait for the next idea. You are the next idea. [Strategic leadership entails] empowering my team to take on tasks and challenges while maintaining the understanding of our end goal. This now creates some time I didn’t have and allows me to think toward tomorrow and beyond.”


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