When we think of senior executives, we often picture someone with a BS in Business or even an MBA; someone who has risen in the pipeline of leadership. They may have begun their career as Supervisors, then became Managers, Directors, Vice Presidents, and so on. However, there are many other leaders whose career path is very different. These leaders established themselves in professional careers—Physicians, Lawyers, CPA’s, Scientists, Engineers, Academics, Registered Nurses, even Psychologists, like me. I have an affinity for these types of leaders and have worked with hundreds of them over the past several years.
What I love about these leaders is the dedication to their profession and their craft. The knowledge and expertise and mastery of a field that took a minimum of bachelor’s degree and often additional graduate degrees and or other post-graduate credentials. They are not just smart professionals, but often the “smartest person in the room”. That is, they are good critical thinkers who were noted for their great work and asked to lead others.
Some of these folks, however, are a bit “reluctant” to lead, in that they fully recognize their first love/passion is for the profession they committed to long ago. They are still interested and dedicated to that profession and want to help their colleagues and their organizations make the best choices for customers, clients, patients, and students—and not just focus on the bottom line.
One of the learning curves for these leaders (and all leaders actually) is how to let go of “being right”—that is, relying on data, logic, and professional experience to prove their perspective or proposed solution is correct. Can you relate?
Have you ever just KNOWN your way is the best way, but others simply won’t accept it? Have others’ proposed solutions or perspectives shown a lack of experience, logic, or bedrock values? Yeah, I’ve been there. Most leaders have.
What great leaders learn in their journey, however, is that the critical decisions of leadership rarely have “right” answers. They have multiple right answers that different stakeholder groups, from their unique and educated perspectives, can make a case for. Ronald Heifetz calls this Adaptive Leadership, which he defines as “the practice of mobilizing people to tackle challenges and thrive.” This model of leadership is especially meaningful to professionals who become leaders and its one I have helped others use.
The skills it takes to handle Adaptive Leadership means letting go of your technical knowledge and of being the most competent professional in the room; Instead the skills you need are to listen, show empathy, ask questions, be curious about what you don’t know, name the real issues at play (not the issues that are often being argued), and guide others to identify the common problems and commit to solving them together. The best leadership isn’t engaging in a competition for who can come up with the best answer, or in proving you are the smartest or the wisest.
I love helping leaders of all backgrounds find the power in Adaptive Leadership practices, the power in true collaboration, and bringing all great voices forward in critical decisions, not just the loudest and most confident. If this sounds like your world, shoot me an email, I’d love to talk with you.