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Climbing the Next Step: Being Leadership

The path has opened for one of my coaching clients to take a stronger leadership role in his company. He finally has the buy-in and the resources for his function and is poised to make a difference. This is something he has wanted and worked for over the last few years. It fits his vision of influencing the industry, realizing his sense of himself, and providing for his family. It would seem everything is coming up roses, but now the pressure’s on my client to succeed. You might ask: What does it really take to step up to a new role?

Does it take knowing how to lead? There is no shortage of how-to books that provide instruction on new skills. Search “management” on Amazon and you’ll get over 600,000 options. Certainly information is important and learning from those who have walked the path before us can be very valuable. But focusing on knowing can also be a trap. For example, my client has long prided himself on being a subject-matter expert: the go-to guy for answers in his field. While it’s comfortable to stick to what’s worked in the past, he wants his peers to relate to him differently now. He sees that clinging to that identity can keep him from contributing at a new level. Among the skills he will need at the next stage, knowing will be one of them, but he knows he must take another step.

So is stepping up about doing different things? Absolutely! As accountabilities change, actions must follow. And yet, trying to navigate a role change solely by laboring to check off a long to-do list may lead to a frenzied lack of focus. I encourage clients to select one or two activities that are high leverage. In order to shift how he’s seen by his coworkers, my client has chosen to prioritize organizational communication. This definitely requires some doing: finding the right forums and developing the right message. Communicating plans and progress is not just about creating a better PowerPoint graphic or a well-articulated story. You have to provide enough detail to instill confidence while simultaneously connecting to the big picture that makes the information strategic. That calls for doing things well, but with the addition of something greater.

I believe that succeeding in a new role requires conscious steps: from knowing—to doing—to being. Leadership calls forth a new way of being—a sense of presence and clarity. Dartmouth administrator Wiley Souba suggests that this sort of transformation is challenging stuff. He writes that “we can ‘get our arms around’ our behaviors and develop or modify them, but our being is more difficult to grasp; it is less ’embraceable;’ we don’t know ‘being,’ it’s just who we are” (from Souba’s February 2011 article “The Being of Leadership” in the journal Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine).

While Souba’s article specifically focused on physicians and health care executives, his “Foundational Pillars of Being a Leader” offer a helpful context for leaders in any situation:

Awareness: Facing what is in front of you without the filters of your assumptions (about yourself and the way the world works) opens more possibilities.

Commitment: Knowing your purpose in life—and committing to what you truly care about—is a powerful asset, making choices easier.

Integrity: Sticking to your word is a practice which elicits exceptional performance.

Authenticity: Acting from your true identity and your unique strengths requires courage, but is the key to working toward a great future.

My client has begun this process. He is becoming curious about his authentic self as he moves beyond familiarity and comfort. He’s studying his Myers-Briggs report to explore his natural preferences and he’s aligning his convictions with his actions. He is laying a new foundation for being leadership. And that is a great step toward real sustainability.

Photo by Jared Tarbell