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The Finished Article

Written by Martin Fenwick, Director and Executive Coach at Atris

One of our core philosophies when enhancing leadership capability and capacity is that self-awareness is the root of good leadership.  Whether in our coaching work or leadership development programmes, we believe that a good leader truly understands how they think and what their values are and they have a good understanding of how these come into play – positively or negatively -  in their role.

Many of our coachees have made significant strides in their roles as a result of being willing to expand their self-awareness and reflect on their biases and drivers. For many, the interesting thing is that they have always known they were ‘like that’ but more in-depth insight gives them an understanding of ‘why’ and that’s what empowers them to change.

But not everyone is willing to take on board all aspects of their new insight and do something with it. I’m not talking about people who test and query what they have learned about themselves; I am talking about people who understand but do nothing at all.

This is, of course, the way of human beings. There is, for most of us, a time when we are more open to exploring ourselves and have a greater need to look at who we are and how we behave. If new insights come your way when you are focused on other priorities then you will put them down and possibly ignore them.

As someone who works with leaders with a view to helping them to be the best that they can be, I’m always interested in what I can do to help people engage in the act of reflection and exploration of their value structure and its impact on their behaviour.

What drives Senior Leaders and CEOs to change?

What has interested me is how often the people who don’t do anything with the information that we can give them are the most senior ‘C-suite’ leaders or CEOs themselves. GMs often explore their insights in the light of what it takes for them to achieve a CEO role for example. People further down the ladder often ask for follow up, or more information, or set goals around working on specific aspects that they become aware of during a review of their insights. I’ve even met CEOs who ensured that the insights and supporting coaching conversations were available for their staff as part of ongoing development but did not include themselves in the programme.

I believe that a CIO/COO/CFO/CEO role is challenging as much for its loneliness (no or few peers to challenge and share with) as for its multiple stakeholders (Board, Team, External), so wouldn’t anyone in that situation want to explore their own uniqueness as a way of dealing with it all?

The Finished Article

My job is to make the insights that we have uncovered through coaching accessible to the individual so if there is something else required to help a leader be better at their role then it’s part of my job to find it or help them find it.

As a result of that search, I recently had someone put it to me that the reason that the most senior leaders are reluctant to make personal change could be that as a CIO/COO/CFO/CEO you are pretty much at the top of your respective tree and therefore “what else would you think you need to work on?”. This is an interesting perspective based on the idea that personal change is driven by personal ambition; take away that ambition and there is no drive for change. In addition they said that these leaders invariably don’t get the kind of feedback that others get to create a driving need for change (not everyone feels happy giving the boss feedback).

This perspective closed the triangle a little by adding feedback to the mix i.e. if we have no ambition (positive desire to move forward) and have had no constructive feedback (information on where we can do better than we do currently) then we may be left with a view that we are the finished article and all we need to do is learn to be a CIO/CFO/COO/CEO so that other equivalent roles come our way.

In a world where good leadership is highly prized, the question is whether any of us are ever the finished article, however high we might rise.  Take the opportunity to ask yourself, even if you are not yet operating in the C-suite, if you might think you are the ‘finished article’ or if, in reality, there is still lots to learn.  If you’re already there (C-suite) what could you improve or leverage to be even more effective than you already are?

Altris is a supporting partner of Leadership NZ. Click here to read more of their insights.