Blog Posts

How do I show up?

I’ve been reflecting a lot with colleagues and clients in recent months about the challenges of capacity building in leadership, not least in the VUCA-dominated, fast-paced world of the emerging digital leader.

The particularities of the leadership challenges faced by – and, therefore, capabilities required of – digital leaders are worthy of a more detailed treatment and will be a topic to which I will return regularly in coming months.

To begin, however, it seems important to establish a fundamental, though oft overlooked, truism that leadership capacity demands more than the requisite technical competencies. It requires appropriate and nuanced leadership behaviours, through which the technical competencies of the leader can be translated to, and drive impact through, the team. And such behaviours are dependent upon, and informed by, our leadership mindsets. This seems blindingly obvious when written, but how often is it diminished in attention, or overlooked completely, in traditional approaches to leadership development?

And, challenging though the technical competencies required of future leaders undoubtedly are, it is arguable that the mindset shifts, and behavioural responses are harder still because they require growth and change at a much deeper level. They require us to ask, and honestly answer, the question ‘how do I show up?’.

There are many ways in which we, as individual leaders, can face up to this question. There is no ‘golden bullet’ to the ontological foundation of an effective response, but there are some elements essential to its genesis.

Seek feedback and coaching. Feedback is essential for identifying one’s strengths and areas for improvement as a leader but seeking it requires great openness and a willingness to embrace vulnerability. Seeking feedback from peers, managers, subordinates, and external sources can help one gain insights into leadership style, impact, and potential. Coaching is a transformative supplement to this by providing a safe framework for challenge, self-insight, support, and accountability for developing and implementing action plans based on feedback.

Learn from others. Leaders can learn from the experiences and best practices (and worst) of other leaders, both within and outside their domain. This can be done through formal or informal mentoring, networking, shadowing, or reading. Learning from others can expose one to different perspectives, approaches, and challenges, and inspire one to emulate or adapt successful behaviours and strategies, and avoid negative ones.

Engage in self-reflection. Self-reflection is the process of honestly examining one’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and outcomes as a leader. It can help one become more aware of underpinning values, beliefs, assumptions, and biases, and how they influence leadership decisions and behaviours. Self-reflection can also help one identify goals, motivations, and passions as a leader, and align them with vision and purpose. It is an essential component of any successful leader’s effective ‘presence’.

Take on new challenges. Leaders can build their capacity by taking on new or stretch assignments that require them to apply or acquire new skills, knowledge, or competencies and the accompanying behaviours. These can be projects, roles, or tasks that are outside one’s comfort zone, but realistically within one’s reach. Taking on new challenges can help one grow, learn, and demonstrate leadership presence, as well as increase confidence and resilience.

Develop others. Leaders also build capacity by developing the capacity of others. This can be done by delegating, empowering, coaching, mentoring, and providing feedback to others. Developing others can help enhance their interpersonal, communication, and influencing skills, as well as create a culture of learning and collaboration. Often the most effective form of this cultivation of new leaders is through role modelling, which of course presupposes the growth of the enabling leader too.

Any capacity building initiatives which fail to address the growth of the leader in this ontological domain – who am I and how do I show up – will remain impoverished and partial.

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