Transitioning to Senior Leadership: From Smart to Aware

Smart to Aware

In our recent survey about senior leadership, we asked senior leaders the following question. “What do you wish you knew more about prior to being promoted to senior leadership?”

Here are a few summary quotes of how they responded…

  • “I wish I knew more about Emotional Intelligence influence on leading teams and having to work with other organizations.”
  • “More insight into my own limitations as I moved through this process.”
  • “I wish I understood the value and impact of managing my emotions.”
  • “I wish I would have known how to be more sympathetic – they don’t teach you that in college.  Human relations are critical to success – when to be “hard” and when to have a softer approach.  We are here to run a business at the end of the day, but the people we encounter along the way is what it is really about.”
  • “Not to overreact.”
  • “I learned to manage individual employees slightly different based on personalities, strengths and weaknesses with the goal of getting most out of each individual…all while striving to be consistent overall.”

Mindset Shift #1: From Smart to Aware

The first mindset shift required to successfully navigate the transition into senior leadership is to move from being smart to aware. I call this enhanced state of awareness Interpersonal Agility and it’s the first of our 4-part senior leadership model that we’ll be exploring over the next several months.

At previous levels of leadership, you were likely a technical expert and that’s what got you promoted. You were good at what you did and someone said, “let’s promote this guy or gal.”  And even though you may have recognized the need to get work done through others, you could still get away with overcoming organizational challenges by being the technical expert.

This no longer works at the senior leader level.

And primarily because of the challenges of senior leadership roles that we explored in the previous post – the complexity of the role, the consequence of your decisions, and consideration for the future. At senior leadership levels, you now have a much broader spectrum of stakeholders to engage with – the executive leaders you work for, the extensive network of peers with whom you have to negotiate resources, and the people who work for you.

The technical knowledge and skills that made you successful in the past do not arm you with the tools you need to manage our emotions in the midst of the chaos and complexity that comes with senior leadership. And, if you don’t make the shift from trying to be smart to being aware, you won’t be equipped to stay in conversation, to manage well in conflict, to hold the needs of your constituents in mind as you make a case for what your team needs. As a result – conflicts will fester or go unresolved, and silos will build between organizations.

Next Post

That’s the intro the Shift 1: from Smart to Aware. Stay tuned for more details on this shift in our next post.