Leadership wobbles

There’s no permanent ice rink in my town, but in the winter a temporary rink is set up and we’ll visit a few times as a family. Not often enough to actually improve much to be honest, but it’s good to do something new sometimes, and it’s a case study in getting out of your comfort zone! So as I wobbled round the other day for the last time this season, there seemed some obvious comparisons to draw with the world of corporate leadership:

1)     You can’t pretend you’re an expert.

You may not realise it (and indeed some leaders demonstrate a remarkable lack of self-awareness) but really everyone else can see if you know what you’re doing. This is not the time to blag when you’re stuck, or to crash on regardless, risking yourself and others. Trying to cover up or avoid accountability will be blindingly obvious and do nothing for your integrity. That’s ok, because:

2)     Help is available.

No matter your seniority, you can be sure someone else has faced that particular challenge before, has achieved better results, could help you devise a way forward or has connections that will help you. Spend time around the people who are going to help you improve as a leader. Watch and learn, no matter how high you’ve climbed. You may not think you need help (and you may hate asking for it) however it is unlikely to be declined when you reach out. Everyone at every level can benefit from mentors (and reverse mentors) within their industry, and executive coaching is a great way to devise solutions, tap into your growth mindset and work through issues outside of the business, in confidence. Because after all:

3)     Nobody is hoping you will fall down*

When (NB when) you make an error of judgement or what turns out to be a bad decision (ah, hindsight) you will need to take responsibility for it, and get back up again. No-one will delight in your temporary dip, and there’s no hiding from it either. If you’ve properly embraced the first 2 points, you are already equipped to move forwards. Tripping other people up on the way down is easy to do and should be avoided – more pain does not make for a better outcome.

*If this is not the case, you have found yourself in a toxic environment indeed, and change of one kind or another is needed as a matter of priority.

4)     There is literally only one way to improve.

Do it more. There are no shortcuts and I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “born leader”. Those people who seem so charismatic and competent have a great deal of experience under their belt, a team of people helping and a long list of what they would cite as ‘failures’ that they have turned into learning experiences. Short-cutting any of these is doing yourself - and the people you lead - a disservice.

5)     You will never be 100% stable.

Because – people. No matter how automated your processes, at some point you rely on your team, your suppliers or your customers. Humans. Innately fallible, subjective and therefore not as predictable as you’d like. Sometimes they get in your way. (Also currency markets, changing consumer preferences, other external forces…) As a great leader you know not to rest on your laurels, and that retaining a little wobble actually positions you well to react to what will happen next, even when you can’t predict whether that will result in regaining balance, or a fall. Either is manageable, because you have contingency plans in the bag.  

Finally – you’ll get the most out of the experience when you share it with other people. There is fun to be had along the way, and always more to learn. Happy skating!