by Certified Executive Coach and Leadership Strategist Galen Bingham
Leaders often have to stand in the gap of uncertainty to help others cross over. When unsure, executives are tempted to hide behind fancy titles (senior vice president of this, executive vice president of that, or chief executive officer of the other thing). They are seduced by urgent and seemingly important management activities (measure this, track that, evaluate performance versus budgets). Management activities are quite useful but insufficient substitutes for leadership – and rarely make effective hiding places.
Think of the last time you experienced a leader who inspired you to achieve goals you initially believed to be improbable at best. As a child finds courage in the dark with only a towel draped over his or her shoulders as a cape, high impact leaders cause us to feel invincible. Just thinking of these leaders conjures supernatural powers to solve problems strategically and creatively. No coercion is required for us to work long hours, embracing work assignments as if our very existence depends on the success of the leader and their mission.
Conversely, far too many know managers who wield their title and position authority as their only levers of influence. These managers cause us to question the likelihood of ever contributing to the corporate mission in a meaningful way. To hear their names even years later leaves us feeling drained. Our concerns are validated every time they tried to “make us do something“, because…well…they are in charge and the conversation is supposed to end there.
When it was my turn to lead, I was far from certain. I had big questions: What type of leader would I be? Would I have the “it” that seems to sift effective from not so effective leaders? Could I learn to lead? Or, is it true that leaders aren’t made but born with all knowledge and shipped in from a distant planet?
Many people aspire to leadership positions because of the big bonuses, public accolades and power. I was no different. But soon I realized the work and responsibility that precede the shiny watches and flattering headlines. Successful leaders embrace three primary responsibilities. Many received no fanfare; providing confidence to others often without having full certainty themselves in the final outcome. This is what I learned over my three decades as a Fortune 500 executive:
- Effective leaders paint clear pictures of success. Every organization, regardless of size or mission needs a vision of winning. Without clarity followers meander aimlessly, executing well-intentioned tasks unsure whether they are truly helping the organization be successful. Effective leaders create a tangible vision that conveys how everyone contributes to achieving a grand corporate mission.
- Productive leaders identify and remove barriers. Barriers can be physical (a person, situation or thing blocking success), financial (insufficient funding or a misallocation of scarce resources), or informational (antiquated training, outdated ideas, or flawed analysis inhibiting success). Productive leaders focus their time to identify, minimize and remove barriers.
- True leaders inspire action. Let’s face it, nothing happens until someone does something. While short-term results can come from dictates and demands; enduring success comes from employees going beyond basic job descriptions to offer more than what the manager is aware is needed. True leaders inspire others to want to take action.
Those following an executive long for assuredness. It’s not that they need a fail-proof roadmap to success. More than anything followers want confidence that even with unforeseen challenges, the executive has the commitment and problem-solving capacity to ensure the mission. A great coach asks questions to help executives clarify and leverage resources. Oftentimes, the resources have been there all along. The invaluable coach stands with their client, so they can lead confidently even while in the gap of uncertainty.
What uncertainties exist for you? Which of the three primary leadership responsibilities are you embracing? In what areas are your followers longing for more? Who is standing with you in the gap of uncertainty to ensure your success?