Leadership is relationship – to a very high degree. You simply can’t lead in a complete vacuum. That would defy the very definition of the word – leadership. In fact, I suggest that the higher we move up in an organization, the more critical it is to get really good at relationship management.
Data from Korn Ferry’s Leadership Architect (the global gold standard for leadership competencies) identifies “Social Leadership” as one of the top four categories for executive success. This is the main reason why our programs focus so heavily on relationship dynamics. Technical competence is simply not enough at these high levels.
One of the most common career derailers that we see at all levels in organizations is the inability to deal with “anxiousness” in self and in others. As our executive coach, Teresa Edmondson, likes to say, “In the absence of anxiousness we just do what needs to be done” (i.e. have a difficult conversation, genuinely hear another’s point-of-view). But when anxiousness is present, that’s when you really see what a leader is made of.
The good news is that you can learn how to be less reactive during stressful times. And you can learn how to not get “caught up” in other’s reactivity. When we can manage our own anxiousness just a little bit better even in the midst of the storm, it frees us to think (and therefore to lead) more clearly. Or as I like to say, it allows you to “respond more intentionally versus react more automatically.”
Here are some tips and suggestions that can help ground your thinking when the storm clouds are gathering:
- Observe the system. What’s going on? What is the level of anxiousness in it?
- How are you reacting to these dynamics?
- Have you amped the system up? (Note: This can be done with both aggressive behaviors as well as not speaking up when needed. Both add fuel to the fire!)
- Interrupt your reactivity and pause.
- Do your best thinking and ask: “What Guiding Principles are in play here? What are my options in this situation? Which one will I choose and why?”
- Be clear about the actions you will take or not take.
- Recognize that it might take courage to act or not act.
- Know that sabotage could come into play.
- Resolve to hold to your principles while remaining open to new information.
What are your Guiding Principles when it comes to the above concepts? Here are a couple that are true for me:
- I’m Responsible for My Emotions and My Actions: My emotions and my actions are solely my responsibility. It’s not necessary to be a victim of the emotional reactivity of others. I have a choice.
- Stay in Contact: I will stay in contact with and maintain one-to-one relationships with individuals in my system, even when it gets intense. This provides a sense of groundedness that I get in no other way.
One of our key goals is to help you further develop those critical muscles that lead to successful “Social Leadership.” During times of stress, the automatic cruise control most of us depend on can lead us astray. So, this is a gentle reminder to stay intentional, be deliberate, and do your best thinking
1 Korn Ferry Four Dimensional Executive Assessment, 2015