Letting go of what got you here

Thank you to guest blogger, Susan Edwards, PCC, CHRP, Development By Design

Business woman looking at big bright opened door

Guest blogger, Susan Edwards, PCC, CHRP, Development By Design. Adapted from Sue’s chapter “You’ve Gotta’ Flip It On Its Head! Four Key Strategies for Leadership Success”, in Leadership Gurus Speak Out!

“If you only do what you know you can do, you never do very much.” - Tom Krause, motivational speaker, teacher and coach.

Sooner or later after a significant promotion, this challenge seems to hit all leaders between the eyes. Letting go of previously successful approaches is one of the most frequent coaching topics for my executive coaching clients. It’s especially a challenge when the approaches that are no longer appropriate to rely on are the very behaviours that led to the promotion.

Why this sudden about face? Why would certain behaviours be considered strengths one day and weaknesses a week later? Are organizations this erratic? 

Think of situations where you’ve been recognized for a particular strength—let’s take “rolling up your sleeves and getting things done” as an example. For much of your career you may have been rewarded for showing initiative and accomplishing things yourself. Then suddenly as you are promoted to the Director level, this strength doesn’t seem to earn you the respect it once did. Your boss starts telling you to stand back and get things done through others instead. You are told to get your nose out of the day-to-day issues and address longer-term strategic concerns. You are encouraged to hold back your own answers and coach others to figure out their own best solutions instead.

A case study

Valerie was recently promoted to Controller from the position of Manager, Strategic Alliances.  In her previous role, she operated as an individual contributor. Her analyses of potential alliance opportunities required her to be very hands-on and focused on detailed information. She was recognized as being one of the strongest individuals in the company for knowing specific facts and being able to answer any question at all about the smallest piece of data.    

In Valerie’s new role she gained a team of managerial level direct reports.  In no time Valerie’s team told her that she was micro-managing them. When she asked detailed questions about specific budget lines, they felt that Valerie didn’t trust them. Her highest potential direct report resigned within one month, expressing that Valerie was too involved in the day-to-day details and required too much detailed information. Clearly, Valerie needed to let go of her desire to keep all of the details in her head. She needed to step up from individual contributor to a leader who "gets things done through others". Continuing to rely heavily on the skills she was recognized for in her previous job would sooner or later derail her at this new level.

The irony

Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that the challenge of making these shifts seems to be most difficult for people who have had the most previous success. The louder the applause, the more the individual wants to repeat the same behaviours. It can be frightening to move from a place of high-achievement and strong recognition to a place of “not knowing” and uncertainty. It can be uncomfortable to move from expert mode to learner mode. It’s very natural for this discomfort to result in resistance to pursuing new skills and a desire to continue relying on proven success strategies from past roles. 

Accountability partners such as your manager or a mentor can be of great support in helping you hold your hand to the flame and try on new behaviours. The services of a professionally-trained leadership coach are particularly valuable to support you with these challenging skill transitions.

“It is necessary to any originality to have the courage to be an amateur.” - Wallace Stevens, poet

Here are some questions for personal reflection…

  • What past skills or strengths are at risk of becoming (or may already be) liabilities for you at your current level in the organization?
  • How can you shift your attention to the necessary new skills that are important for success in this role?

While it is understandably a daunting to step into the unknown to gain new skills, it is the path to personal growth and career progression. I wish you well on this journey.

About Sue Edwards: Sue has the great honour of working with successful leaders at their most vulnerable, especially when they are trying to let go of behaviours that got them where they are today, but that are now getting in the way of their executive path ahead.

Sue coaches leaders ranging from senior executives of Fortune 500 multi-national corporations to business owners of mid-sized organizations. Her clients include CEO’s, Presidents, direct reports to the CEO, Vice Presidents and functional heads in various sectors. Sue has extensive experience with leaders in the construction sector and received the prestigious 2009 PRISM Award from the International Coach Federation- GTA Chapter for work with Capital Paving Inc., an infrastructure and road building company in Guelph, Ontario.  

Sue is certified in the use of various well-regarded assessment instruments, including MBTI, DISC, TEIQue, Profile XT and Benchmarks® 360 degree feedback.  

Did you enjoy Sue's post? Contact Sue at sue@development-by-design.com or phone (416)721-3655. Visit Sue's website at http://www.constructionleadershipcoach.com.

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