Enhancing Your Executive Skills

This is a continuation of the series on “So You Want to Be An Executive”

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If you want to develop into a successful executive you have to be skilled at thinking and acting strategically, leading change, and nurturing relationships.  Here’s how you can learn each skill.

 Leading Strategy

Strategic thinking always starts with the question “What’s right for this enterprise right now?” The one asking that question could be anyone from an individual contributor to the CEO of a Company. The former would most likely be thinking of strategy with a small “s” like some continuous improvement initiative.  The head of a company, on the other hand, is more likely thinking of strategy with a big “S”. For example, “How can we penetrate and compete in the Chinese market with our products and services?

Here are some best practices in learning to think and act more strategically.

1. Get a seat at the table where strategy is being determined. First be an observer then a participant. Make this a part of your growth plan with your manager.

2. Shadow and/or interview the great strategists in your organization or outside your company to learn best practices. Then be mentored by them.

3. Read the best in class literature on strategy setting (See the latest issue of Harvard Business Review).

4. Learn to ask powerful questions that first get to the root issues of your strategic initiative like:

o    “What cultural issues do I need to take into account as I seek to penetrate the Chinese market?”

o    “What lessons can I learn from my competitors who tried a similar venture?”

o    “What assumptions am I making that need to be examined more carefully?

6. Surround yourself with people who can help you with a risk /reward analysis without slipping into the naysayer frame of mind. Find a good devil’s advocate.

 Leading Change

Leaders who think strategically must also learn to lead the change that brings the strategy to life. Here some of the important steps include:

1. Use a roadmap for leading change like that devised by John Kotter in “Leading Change“: e.g. establishing the need for change and engaging the chief stakeholders.

2. Volunteer to lead a change initiative in your organization and always go a little out of your depth.

3. Learn to know how to act with sufficient but incomplete information (Get over perfectionism).

4. Resist the impulse to lead change for the sake of change but always align it with a great strategy.

5. Remember that change does not come easy for some people. They like to stay in their zone of comfort. So be prepared for people to buy into the change at different rates. Don’t give up on the person who resists change today.  He/she could become your greatest ally in the future.

 Nurturing Relationships

The most effective senior executives are servant leaders who place high value on relationships with all in their organization. Not only do they seek to bring out the best in others but they also want to make a contribution to the lives of all their reports. Here’s how:

1. Network, network, network at the office,  online, and in your  community.

2. Listen empathically, even if you only have 60 seconds, to everyone from the janitor to the CEO

3. Show kindness in all your relationships even with those who bug you (a tall order at times).

4. Show personal concern without becoming codependent or overly involved in personal issues.

5. Communicate frequently. One supportive tweet from a senior leader is worth 100 all hands meetings.

6. Know the strengths and inspiration of each of your team members.

7. Don’t neglect your personal and family relationships. No amount of hard work is worth that sacrifice.

8. Learn to regulate your emotions as a leader. Daniel Goleman in “Primal Leadership” points out that the leader’s emotions are contagious throughout the organization.

Your Point of View

What are some of the ways you have enhanced your executive skills by learning to drive strategy, lead change, or enhance relationships?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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