What do you like doing at work? If you’re anything like me the answer is quite simple.
“I like doing what I like doing, and I don’t like doing what I don’t like doing!”
Most human beings are naturally attracted to the things from which they derive most satisfaction and offer the greatest opportunities for success – and, conversely, they tend to stay away from things that they find difficult and where the chances of something going wrong are high.
This is important to leadership growth because there’s a real danger that, as they move up the ladder – attaining increasingly important and strategic roles – leaders don’t move away from what they like doing.
But, to be really successful, they must do that very thing.
They must leave behind what can be described as their ‘professional hobbies’ and move into areas where, whilst they may not be as sure-footed, they can have much greater influence and impact. We’ve all met the CFO who still operates at the level of the decimal point, or the chief executive who prides himself on knowing every last detail of every last thing.
But why do leaders feel the need to be like this? Is it because they don’t trust others? Maybe. Or is it because they’d feel vulnerable if they didn’t? Perhaps.
However, I think the main reason senior leaders hang on to their ‘professional hobbies’ is simply because they enjoy doing them. Of course, they also find them easy – they’re what they grew up on. But they are definitely not what they’re paid to do now!
The role of the senior leader – particularly at chief executive level – is to do as little of the ‘doing’ as possible. Sounds strange? Not really. If, at the most senior level, a leader is intent on being down amongst the weeds, then I would ask a number of questions:
- What space are you leaving for your reports to learn and grow?
- What messages are you sending about the amount of trust you place in others?
- Who, exactly, is steering the ship?
And it’s the last point that troubles me the most. One of the most common challenges I encounter when I talk to leaders in organisations large and small is their need and/or desire (usually both) to change the culture of their business. And often they talk about this massive task as if it was something they can do alongside their day job or, worse, something they can delegate to the HR director.
(And that is definitely not meant as a slight on HR directors – it simply means that delegating the ‘big job’ is not an option.)
One of the signs of great leadership is having the courage to take a stand – to be really clear what you want to achieve and to lead from the front in the achieving of that ambition.
And very often that means stopping doing most, if not all, of the things that got you to that leadership position in the first place. In order to steer the ship – be that in a new cultural direction or along a new strategic route – absolute dedication and commitment to that cause is required. Having gathered the right team around them, leaders must force themselves to let go of everything else and put a laser-like focus on what they want to achieve.
Having professional hobbies gets you so far – letting go of them takes you to a different level. How many do you have – and when will you let them go?
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