I help men emerge from burnout, which I love to do. Seeing a man get back on his feet, return to the helm of his life and enjoy work, people and life is delightful. Watching his career blossom again- it's magic. Hearing the quality of his relationships deepen - excellent!
But it doesn't stop there. The high-achieving men who come to me are natural born leaders, but they're often held back by hidden forces within themselves.
Leadership skills are just skills. Anyone can learn them. I teach them, as most men I work with have risen through the ranks as a top-flight professional working hands-on in their area of expertise - physicians, accountants, lawyers, financiers, business consultants, academics business owners, sales executives and so on.
These people may be in management positions, but they have often not been taught how to transition to a leadership that fully reflects their many talents.
So this episode is the first of 4 on developing all the foundation leadership skills to fast-track your leadership career journey.
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Hi, everyone. My name is Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership Podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, my friends. This is Dex again, and this month what I'm doing is I've got a new series of podcast episodes focusing on leadership, because when I'm really working with my students to eradicate burnout, the coaching itself has got two primary drivers. The program I run is called Burnout to Leadership. So number one is, to get them back out of burnout, get them feeling good, back to equilibrium, power, performance, resilience, back to a place really where they can work their magic and feel really excited and rewarded and enliven basically in their role at work. That's stage one of the Burnout to Leadership Coaching Program. And stage two is once they're back in that power, it's really we focus on career and leadership development, however, that applies to their role and their aspirations, because these people tend to have a real lot in the tank that they haven't been using. And generally, once they're released from burnout, they dream of contributing at a higher level, taking on a bigger challenge, just because it's an exciting thing to do, remember that, stretching themselves, fulfilling their potential at work. And often that too includes a really altruistic motive to mentor and support other people. So when my students learn the skills to emerge from burnout, and I start seeing them kind of excited again, smiling again, then we move on to leadership skills. So and this is really because the next step on the ladder for them is usually a big leap, it's really into an executive role. And so I really enjoy teaching them the skills, particularly the soft skills that rest on the back of the skills they learned in coming out of burnout. So that's why in this next few weeks, I am going to be focusing on the leadership skills that I think most people will really thrive on. So I think before we begin, we really need to look at what is a leader? And I think of it this way, I think of a leader as a person who has responsibility in an organization for people and results specifically for inducing those people to produce results. And of course, part of that responsibility is strategic, setting your vision and strategies to achieve that vision in the face of whatever the circumstances the organization is in. It generally involves managing risk, promoting change, probably managing budget, cultivating talent, and really fundamentally unifying the workforce towards a common goal. The only way I see to be successful at that and therefore the most economic solution, because the profit curve just keeps rising, precludes some behaviors that type A personality people might have previously employed. It precludes using a top down model and also any kind of dictatorial behavior, "I'm right, do it my way." So that includes things the seedy side, the shadow side of this might be making demands, threats, coercing people, manipulating people, excluding people or their ideas, intolerance, dishonesty, and a lack of communication. So I think some of those are the flip side of what gets us to the top of the ladder as type A people, for a lot of our career we've employed some perhaps slightly selfish motives, self centered motives to get to where we are. And that's worked normally spectacularly well, that's how we got to the senior positions that we're in. But I think the difficulty that many leaders face in the top professions is that they rose to and were selected for leadership based on standout results as technicians in their industry. And when I'm using the word technician, I'm using it in the sense of mastery of the skills of their discipline, their profession. For example, surgery, accounting, law, finance, whatever, they've risen as a skills based kind of solo player. So really what they've done is they've created a career sitting on top of this, hands on personal production kind of MO. And now what they're trying to do is transition from the individual, the personal to being a leader of people, and that transition is often handled quite poorly by all parties. So if those people have created so far a largely autonomous career, depending chiefly on themselves to produce results, they're gonna have very high standards, they'll be demanding, hard working, probably impatient. They'll have a strong belief in their own problem solving capacity. But what they might not natively have developed is their ability to manage others in a productive way, because they will inevitably want those others to see things and do things their way. It's what worked all the way up the ladder. So they've got this proprietary system of thinking centered around how they've always produced results until now. And if they try and apply that in leadership and in management, the results usually pretty painful, both sides. In addition to attending more meetings, developing strategies, working with an enterprise structure with more politics, they also take on at this point a rather more dry and abstract task based and reporting structure, which removes them typically from the very thing they found most rewarding, working at the technical level with its direct human contact, its immediacy of results and generally status derived from that. Interestingly, for most of us promoted to leadership in this way. And that includes me, I came up in a software development background, so I was very technical. For most of us then very little training has been offered in the transition, even though the new role has a drastically different set of demands and needs a whole new approach. And even if as such people, we've been in leadership for a number of years, because we've never received training, our leadership development's really been on the job. We've devoted to self development. We've worked out what's effective in many cases. And quite often we simply combine and extend our existing skillset to solve a new type of problem. We apply our analytical problem solving skills, our subject matter expertise by years of experience at the coalface, working with people and our desire to excel. And in many ways, that is what's been asked and expected of us as technical people, but it just it has its limitations, and typically it won't take us all the way to the top. So as high achieving type A people, we do think we need to control things, particularly around people we view as perhaps less adept than ourselves. And between you and me, if you are type A, you're probably gonna agree with this, "That's nearly everyone," right? So we run this tight ship, it's my way or the highway. And our reputation depends on this as we see it. It's all about us. And this is what trips us up commonly as leaders because leadership is never about personal results. That's not how we can leverage our skills. It's about developing out the capacities and the qualities of our teams, supporting our people to achieve greatness, teaching, mentoring, challenging, and encourage them to outperform their best previous efforts and in ways they haven't had the confidence to explore before. So what we do really is we are championing them as they learn. We are facilitating their growth, which means that we must reward, inspire, and acknowledge their wins. We must foster a culture that gives them safety and freedom to be creative to experiment, and we must have their backs when they fail. It's really all about giving them credit for their wins and taking ultimate responsibility for their fails in not in a punitive way, in a way that doesn't destroy their confidence and their creative engagement with the process. And it also means communicating effectively with the executive team, being in confluence with their needs, their commitments, their challenges and their constraints. And also being able to effectively promote our own ideas in a way that lands for the other executives and makes sense to them in the broader context of organizational values, vision, goals, function. And to do this as technician leaders, we need to change, don't we? I felt this very sorely in my transition that there were aspects of leadership that I wasn't familiar with and aspects of working as an executive that I also wasn't familiar with and I needed to adapt. So what skills then does such a person need to thrive? And I think broadly these fall into four areas. One, executive skills, two, executive communication, three, team leadership and four, self realization at a new level of our own potential. So in this month's podcast series, I'm gonna share with you some ideas to jump start you in each of those four areas. And I'm gonna start today with executive skills. So let's get right into it. The executive skills that, I think, tech leaders can sometimes be weak in are strategic thinking at the top level, understanding the executive team and how it works, executive collaboration and executive communication. So let's look at number one first of all, strategic thinking. Really we need enough vision. We need to create vision within ourselves to be able to understand the organization's history, vision and goals, influences, constraints and function, and we need to consider our place in that. We need to consider solutions within the politics of that system. And some of the blocks that I see to that and the people that I work with is, things like not considering a big enough picture, still thinking at a departmental level, lack of background knowledge of executive decision making, being unfamiliar with an organization's external influences. And also, here's a good one, assuming that others in the executive team have a detailed knowledge of your specialty, and assuming therefore that your solution is the only right one, and that they should agree with it. Another area is sometimes at that level we become freaked out by the numbers. We start doubting ourselves bringing in proposals and strategies at that level. And finally, I think an important one here is we are not willing to pass on the bad news to our people about things like budget cuts. So a couple of approaches that I would outline to those blocks and these are the approaches that I will teach to my students in their journey in leadership on my coaching program. Okay, number one, research. Ask people questions. And typically it's not the people in power who are gonna answer your questions, it's the people who support the people in power. But research the history of the organization so that you become familiar with patterns and how they've played out until now. Number two, review your own needs, the needs of you and your team and your ideas and how they fit in with the organizational needs. What kind of a fit are they, discover kind of the common ground in that for you and how you might leverage your aims in that context and also other people, the other executive team leaders aims as well. Because typically you're gonna be looking for a win win at the executive level. Find out what the constraints to growth have been in the past, whether they still prevail or not. Identify how your goals benefit the organization as a whole and back that up with the numbers. You're gonna have the numbers. And also work with your resistance to passing on bad news, because this is a normal and natural part of being an executive. Sometimes you have to carry unpopular decisions down the chain, so that is part of your responsibility. If it hasn't been before, then that's an adjustment that needs to be made. And remember that any judgment or any bad news that you pass on down the chain, it's not personal from you to them, it's just a function of the success of the company and how that's been seen by the executive team. So what I've done there is I've just headlined some of the blocks that technical people might have in that area and how you might address and overcome those blocks. These are all areas that I teach on in my coaching and work through in my coaching, because what the aim is really for my students is to bring them to full capacity as leaders, full efficacy of leaders while maintaining their own journey and their own enjoyment of the journey. So that whilst leadership does have its challenges, that we don't have to become ground down again by those challenges. So that was executive skills. Number two issue I think is listening to the executive team's wants. So this is about making a personal assessment of the other leaders on your team, understanding their style, their motivation and their beliefs so that you can work successfully in a win win style with them. And the block to that is quite often when we ascend to that kind of position, we are quite unfamiliar with the other executives. Maybe we don't know them at all or we don't know very much about them, their backgrounds, their goals, their viewpoints, and also we might assume that all of the other executives think in the same way that we think or that they should think the same way that we think, they naturally will not. So I think in kind of in tandem with that we're not really used to negotiating at an executive level, where we are really attending to more than our own needs. We have to slot that in with the full needs of the organization. We're not battling for our own team anymore in such a direct way. It has to have much broader appeal, the kind of strategy that we're proposing. And on the flip side of that, we do find it sometimes hard up at that level of leadership to advocate efficiently and effectively for our own view. So I think some approaches that you can take in those areas. Number one, obviously you can research your executives background and that is probably very much in your favor to do that. If they came up through a different system than you did. Maybe they didn't rise through the technical ranks. Maybe they're external, they come from different industries or whatever. See if you can grasp how their history until now affects their perspective and their agenda within this organization. Again, it's trying to understand how their needs and your needs might have confluence or might differ. Also, you really can take a look at the power dynamic at an executive level is very status driven. So negotiating a win for you and your team is gonna be easier, if you can spot the win for other people as well. So spend time on that, spend time working that out and also developing rapport with those people, discussing their needs with them. And finally advocating for your views really is strengthened by highlighting, first, the organizational benefit and the financial effect of whatever you are proposing. So many things these days come down simply to budget. So you need to present it in that way rather than just saying, "My people need x, y, z thing," or "My people want to do x, y, z project." Okay, so the next one, number three, executive collaboration naturally following on from communication. So you'll need to develop more diplomacy, patience, pragmatism and pro activity to collaborate effectively with the other leaders on your team to produce results. And the block sometimes in that is we don't really know when to play and when to fold. And also we're not... Many of us are not really a big fan of playing that top level political game either. We might not be willing to prioritize the agenda of the other executives over our own, but at times we will need to, and we might find it hard to de personalize the decision process, imagining that being overridden means something about us. So the approach to take in the face of those is really when you get kicked back on an idea, pause to understand why if you can, because you might be able to regroup, you might be able to represent your idea from a new angle later, but at minimum you will understand what works and what doesn't for the other players. And if politics are blocking you, consider how you might reposition your idea such that it gets a smoother passage. It is a game of politics whether we like it or not. Also, you're not gonna win every battle. You won't always agree about that. You'll still want to keep arguing your case, but you won't always agree and you won't always win. So there has to be a certain pragmatism about that. It has to be sometimes okay that you don't win and can't win. And remember that the people in the room are thinking about themselves, not you. So their agenda, their power, their status, their relationships, their pet projects, they're thinking about those, they're not thinking about you. So if somebody argues against your proposal, really that kind of rebuttal says little or nothing about you, so you don't need to take it personally, and it's gonna really help you operate at a higher level when you can take that one step aside from the process. And in terms of number four, executive communication, when you rise from technician to executive you're going to have to think more like an executive, which means you're thinking about everything at a much higher level than you're used to and much less like a technician, report to them and discuss with them at that level. You really have to let go of the technical details. Nobody wants to hear them. They know that you're an expert in them, they don't want to sit and wade through it with you, the whys and wherefores, that's up to you to knowing you within your team. So the block you might face as a technician going up to leadership is you're not communicating. Typically we don't communicate as technicians at executive level in the beginning, we're still talking in technical terms, because that's what we've done all way along. And it's where our expertise and our status has been up until this point. So we might really be tempted to dive into technical explanations and solutions. And the other thing that we can be tempted to do sometimes is think about problems as if we'll be solving them personally ourselves, when in reality that's very seldom the case these days. We need to come at it from the point of view of part of it will be probably handed down to our team, but part of it might be outsourced to other teams with whom we've not yet worked. So the approach to take about that is really try and help yourself understand that no one is sweating the small stuff except you. They just simply don't want to hear it. What executives really want is to quickly understand the top level rationale of your strategy and the net anticipated effect on the organization and probably on their team. So the technical explanations that you might offer are just leaving them lost, bored, and quite often feeling stupid, because they don't have the same level of knowledge. It's not in their remit. So they simply don't care, they haven't got head space for it. It's probably not helpful to your cause to keep pushing the technical angle, unless they ask for an explanation, in which case make it the kind of explanation that an executive can understand, don't start tech speaking at them. The other thing is approach the problem yourself as an executive. So take it to the top level yourself, expunge all the detailed stuff from your argument, before you start presenting it to them. So don't present from the point of view of a technician, think about that in advance, so you know that you'll be speaking in an executive level. So that's it for today. That's a really quick snapshot of some of the ideas and concepts that rising from technician to leadership will encourage you to reflect on and develop new skills for. And really overcoming technician style thinking is what will develop out your capacity as a fully effective leader and executive. And we're gonna keep more along this vein. Next week we're going to look at team leadership skills, which you'll probably have, but which will quite possibly need upgrading as you move up the ladder. Thank you for listening today. I always appreciate your time in this busy world of ours. And just know this, my students do come out of burnout and up level their career success. Maybe it's by promotion or switching jobs. Maybe it's generating more revenue, championing new ventures. Sometimes it's super charging teamwork as simple as that, or it can be company growth. But if you want that and you're feeling burnt out at the moment, come and talk to me. If you want to learn more about leadership as well, I have got a few books that I have really studied quite intimately, I'll put them in the show notes and the three, that I really can't go past, that I will mention now is "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, which is a study of the habits of companies sustaining long term above average results in any industry. And that's for those of you who are leading an organization, yourself, will have an influence with those who are. "Creativity, Inc" by Ed Catmull, it's about Pixar and it's talking about how to create a psychologically safe team and therefore a high performing low churn, high loyalty team. And "Big Potential" by Shawn Achor, this is basically about how a team always outperforms an individual and going from technician to leadership, it's a very important reminder of how to work the most effectively in mentoring your team. So, okay, as I always say, if you are in burnout right now, listen for the link at the end of this episode. You must come and talk to me about how to recover quickly and sustainably, get back to your best performance, leadership, most of all, enjoyment inside work and out. And if you are in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me @burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you and let's make a plan to fix it.