Senior leaders in today’s workplace are required to work quickly. Almost all the time. The expectation is that executives make often quite complex decisions, rapidly. Everyone has to iterate innovation at speed. Many senior leaders I am asked to work with are approaching exhaustion at the relentless pace of work. The challenge here is that the rate of change is not likely to slow down very much any time soon. So how can leaders learn to cope better in this lighting-fast environment? One way to achieve greater capability to work at this pace, is to develop leadership subtlety. In this post, we’ll explore what I mean by leadership subtlety; how it can improve your pace and how to develop the kind of nuance that the very best leaders demonstrate.
What is leadership subtlety?
For the purposes of this article, ‘leadership subtlety’ refers to leaders developing the capacity to respond to situations and to other people, in the widest range of ways. This flexibility of styles is a mark of mature leadership. Mature leadership is not a function of time in the role. There are plenty of examples of very new leaders who have the range of approaches available to them, that engages their team and ensures delivery of great performance. For the sake of balance, leaders who have been in post for a long time but lack the subtlety of leadership approach, are legion.
Leadership subtlety is the direct result of a developed leader. The human being that is the leader, has high levels of awareness, sophisticated worldviews that allow them to be comfortable with paradox, accept the views of others, even when (especially when) they do not accord with those of the leader. Leadership subtlety enables many views and truths to be held together.
What are the three ways leadership subtlety improves pace?
1. Leaders who display the sort of sophisticated thinking and action that we are talking about here, are more likely to focus on the job of leading because they don’t need to be operational. They are clear on their role. They avoid working at a level that is inappropriate to the job they have. This ‘role discipline’ provides greater impact and value across the organisation. Leaders focusing on leadership avoid getting wrapped up in the operational parts of their function. Not easy but vital.
2. Leadership subtlety is accessible to leaders who have a lower ego-need. Such leaders do not need to be the centre of attention, they encourage the ‘best people for the job’ to take control. Leaders who have lower ego needs tend to trust others more. Their ability to retain an idea of the ‘big picture’ allows them to remain more open to ideas and avoid the ‘my way or the highway’ trap so many leaders can fall into.
3. Linked to the previous point, a highly nuanced approach to leadership allows leaders to be more comfortable with glorious failures. Brave attempts that do not produce the desired results, are not an assault on the identity of the leader. Nor are such lacks of success a prompt for criticising the originators of the idea and plan. In such subtlety of leadership approach lies the germ of risk taking, innovation, rapid iteration, agile work. Why? Because people led by such leaders are not scared to make a decision, try something out or just crack on.
Develop yourself to develop your leadership
Developing your ‘Self’ as a human being enables you to live a more fulfilled life but also allows you to lead much more effectively. Your ability to align your actions to your values and your role, improves markedly. Encouraging the creativity and uniqueness of others, maximises the resources of those you lead. Remaining squarely in your leadership role supports high performance and confidence in others too. You working on you, will aid your ability to succeed as a leader in these fast-paced times.
Dr Glenn P Wallis is the Director of Wallis Partnership Ltd a specialised leadership consultancy. When your organisation is ready to make effective leadership a business imperative, you can contact us here we would be delighted to hear from you.