Article: Leading from 30K feet: Successes & Perils


Leading from 30K feet: Successes & Perils

Leaders need to consciously hone certain soft skills in order to deliver to a wide spectrum of stakeholders and deliverables.
Leading from 30K feet: Successes & Perils

Reaching the upper echelons of management can be exhilarating as well as intoxicating. Being in a senior leadership position (to use the cliche - at 30000 feet!), comes with its own demands and perils; which; the most successful leaders recognize and consistently work at overcoming. Sharing one's perspective when positioned at `30K feet' evokes either of 2 sentiments - depending on which side of the 30K feet one is!

  1. for those at ground zero this is often viewed as `lacking a finger on the pulse', ivory tower thinking, impractical solutions 
  2. for those at 30K feet or roundabout close to it, it may imply a macro perspective which keeps all stakeholders in view

Which of these is correct? Most likely both. The more effectively the leader can straddle both worlds i.e the day to day operational matters as well as the tactical and strategic, the better would be the outcome. Let's take a look at a few qualities the leader would do well to hone. While these may appear to be `soft' skills, they have the potential to be show-stoppers if not heeded to. 

Having a personal `SOP': a statement of purpose: Introspection on what one wants to deliver (a personal mission statement of sorts) apart from the expected deliverables for that position; is a useful first step. Not all of us may be Mark Zuckerberg or have a major disruptive offering like Facebook in mind as we set about our role. In reality a leader may have several smaller goals which progressively and purposefully take the department or organization ahead, one step at a time. Self-awareness and knowing one's higher purpose also helps connect the others to `the cause' and makes the leader more human. 

An 'abundance' mindset: Leaders with an abundance mindset believe and act in ways that operate from a secure mental make-up. Opposed to this, leaders with a `scarcity mindset' often engage in `win-lose' styles. If everyone is to be a `winner', it takes tremendous maturity to live, lead and influence by example. Information sharing, fostering collaboration, recognition of teams as opposed to individual heroes are the hallmarks of a culture that the leader at `30k feet' would do well to encourage.  

Taking people along: To carry out the vision and execute flawlessly, as a leader you would need not just a business strategy but also a people management strategy. Building allies and forging aliances in your constituency requires maturity and high levels of emotional intelligence. Managing resistance is an all too familiar scenario and comes with the territory. It is vital to execution of strategic plans, that a leader adept at dealing with this and if not, the result is a distressed community of stakeholders. Inherent to the execution of your best laid plans is the need for inclusion of multiple segments of employees.  Leadership is a lot about enabling diverse groups in the organization to function seamlessly and deliver optimal output. Significant value is also generated when new ideas and suggestions are encouraged at all levels of the value chain. 

Communication and connect:  the most successful leaders are often brilliant communicators - they listen and first seek to understand rather than speak and be understood.  The most successful leaders not only keep an open door policy but actively seek out engagement opportunities with all levels. Facebook COO Sheryl Sanders is one such example of a leader who works hard at encouraging affiliations across the organization. Often, at top management levels, the time taken to mingle with employees is considered to be too `tactical' - i.e. not strategic enough. This not only leads to lack of connect with the masses, but also allows a mid / senior management to wield excessive power and encourages politics. As a leader you are in charge of creating this connected, living and thriving organization.

Simplify: Simplify all dimensions of work and work-life. In his Ted Talk (refer the url link below), Yves Morieux from the Boston Consulting Group, shares how `Smart Simplicity' - an approach he pioneered - helps in creating an environment in which employees can work with one another to develop creative solutions to complex challenges. Thus, new business complexities can be managed while avoiding organizational complicatedness. Taking cue from Yves, one could evolve ones' own context appropriate rules - the bottom-line being avoidance of bureaucracy and a complicated process and procedure driven team/ organization. 

The skills required to get to 30K feet may be slightly different from the ones needed to stay there, survive and thrive. However one factor that remains consistent and non-negotiable across situations is about `doing the right thing'. It not only helps weather many a storm but also ensures one is truly the leader - whether at ground level or at 30K feet!


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Topics: Leadership

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