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In working with executives over the last 20 years there is a common starting point our discussions inevitably touch on at some point. That is reflecting on and gaining clarity about ‘What kind of leader do I want to be?” and then “What kind of leader am I’?

This reflection is useful and informative but stops short of the really powerful and sometimes confronting question(s) of “What does the organisation/ role/ team/job need of me as a leader?”

This great question forces different thinking and quickly cuts straight to the core.

I was reminded of this last week when a client earnestly was talking about the leader he was and that this was not appreciated by those around him. I asked him straight out,

“John, what kind of leader does this organisation need you to be right now?
Let’s start there…”.

He was silent for a few minutes and then said it was a very difficult question.

The reason it is a difficult question to confront is because the answer to it often requires something different of the asker than what they are doing or what they have always done. Usually it asks them to lead differently. John and I went on to explore how the organisation was in a fast changing environment and in fact he was not keeping up as a leader. Not unusual but inevitably terminal. He walked out with clarity on areas where he had to change his leadership.

Here are some of the main pre-emptive situations that might encourage you to ask the question. Then you need to decide what to do with your insight.

  1. You inherit a new team
  2. You are now leading a much bigger/ diverse/ geographically spread team than before
  3. Your team is facing a different market than before
  4. Your team is struggling in a difficult trading environment
  5. The organisation’s products /services are no longer cutting edge
  6. The organisational capability seems to be slipping
  7. You are not sleeping well
  8. Your desire to be in control is in fact overly controlling
  9. Your desire to be nice to everyone is letting conversations slide
  10. Your desire to be really clever is seen as being really arrogant
  11. The exit interviews suggest all is not well in the camp
  12. The organisation is growing faster than expected
  13. Sales are booming
  14. The market is changing fast and the team is not adapting
  15. Your desire to execute fast is ahead of your relationships internally
  16. You are hiring the people that suited the organisation three years ago but not what it needs for
    next year
  17. Your job is at risk
  18. You are bored
  19. Your family is getting more distant from you
  20. Your boss is telling you to lead differently

So when you are considering your leadership start with:

What does the organisation/ role/ team/job need of me as a leader?

Then decide what it is you need to change, as the leader.

Otherwise you may be taking up someone else’s role.
That of the leader!

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

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