How prepared are you for your leadership role?

Sitting alone on a mountain top

Are you prepared for the noise, the volatility and the exposure … and the loneliness?

You’re expected to keep pace with often-conflicting stakeholders. They’re both inside and outside your organisation. You like to think of yourself as tuned-in … and yet no-one prepared you for the volume of noise, the interruptions, the disruption, or the demands and expectations.

In 1996, I became a local government Head of Youth Service for the first time. I’ve told many people since that the change from middle manager to senior manager was a quantum leap. What I experienced was a chasm between expectation and reality. To this day, I still wonder what my expectations actually were at that time.

Imagine this for my first day. It completely floored me.

In the morning, a tour of my home city to start … that was novel. Then, in the afternoon, a meeting with the Chief Executive’s European Officer to discuss how to spend a £400k drugs prevention fund. After that, I had a meeting with the Strategic Initiative Budgets Officer to discuss the creation of a new Youth Strategy and the recruitment of consultants to undertake the work. During the conversation, it transpired that I was now leading the City Council’s first ever Youth Review and Strategy process. I was also asked had I hired consultants before. That was the first time I’d ever been asked the question, let alone actually hired any consultants! Finally, my smiling Assistant Director took me to the Members’ Car Park under the Civic Centre to hand over the keys of my new lease car.

Bewildering, intoxicating, confusing, exciting … my thoughts and emotions ran amok! I remember sitting at home with my mother later that afternoon. She asked how my day had been. I replied, “If every day is going to be like today Mam, this is going to be one very interesting job!” And so it proved.

On reflection, what I wasn’t prepared for was the instant visibility to a large group of stakeholders, most notably leading politicians, and senior managers, both within and without the Council. If it had the word ‘Youth’ in the title, that agenda found its way to my door from everywhere … or so it seemed. Everyone was vying to have their agenda at the top of my agenda and much of this in a very public arena.

Understanding the scope and significance of every challenge, from that very first day, was immense, let alone dealing with the speed at which each new challenge arrived. And I was it! Me! On my own! Or so it seemed at first. Visibility doesn’t quite do it justice.

Twenty years on, the world is even more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Trying to lead in that environment, you will be focused on building trust across complex relationships, managing multiple decisions and working within highly pressurized timescales, often with reducing resources …and largely on your own, caught between competing tensions and a volatile working environment. When you took on the role where you prepared for that? Is there little wonder if, at times, you feel quite exposed and alone.

My advice … don’t doubt your decision-making; learn to better delegate; and, most importantly, if you don’t already know, learn to say NO. Keep learning ‘on-the-job’ and give yourself some priority in this respect. Most of all, take time out on a regular basis to reflect on how you’re doing and seek feedback from those around you on a regular basis. Otherwise how will you know if you are leading well, in spite of all the circumstances?

So how prepared or in need of help are you?

What will definitely help is some external coaching support, especially from someone who has experienced your world. I’d be happy to listen and I’m always ready to help. Just give me a call or drop me a line soon.

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