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Disrupt The Disruption: Why CxOs Must Keep Their Title, Exercise Their Authority, And Change The Way They Lead

Leadership trends come and go. Riding them can be a great adventure. But leadership isn’t in the riding, it’s in the landing. Leaders know where to get off and take a stand.

Remember swings?

I used to see how high I could get. Then I learned the best point to jump off, not too low as to be boring, not too high to break a bone on landing. As in gymnastics, you want to nail the dismount.

I used to swing on pendulums. Ride a trend as far as I could, swing back to an extreme; leadership offered no end of pendulums I could ride. Directive to passive. Lone Ranger to Team Player. Political to no more political bull. Head of the table to no table.

I’ve had it all and chucked it all when it comes to the leadership pendulum. What I didn’t learn easily was when to dismount. 

Wisdom is the knowledge of when and where to land.

We know what we are swinging away from:

We also know the heights we are trying to reach:

But When Do We Jump And Where Do We Land

The dismount determines the effectiveness of your leadership.

You can wait too long, go too far or swing back too much. 

I see three trends we need to challenge, not because they aren’t swinging in the right direction, but because we can fail to jump and land at the best point for a successful dismount.

  1. Trend: Titles don’t matter. Wisdom: Don’t Abandon Titles.

A title tells me something about the knowledge a person has, the experience a person has learned from or the expertise I can seek from them. To quote from the movie Braveheart, “People don’t follow titles, they follow courage.” I get that. 

But. The title Doctor tells me something, and it’s likely a doctor has knowledge I do not and I need it. CEO isn’t a title easily bestowed: a CEO has been to some places and seen some things, and likely they are places and things I’m trying to get to myself. Senior Staff Engineer isn’t given without demonstrated proficiency. They specialize in areas I need to call on.

I’m grateful they might all exhibit courage. But when I want to know, experience or do something, titles are the “You are here” button I need to get oriented.

(Bonus tip: Give responsibilities freely; give titles responsibly).

  1. Trend: Getting away from authority. Wisdom: Don’t Surrender Authority

We are human. We group together. Groups provide social identity. In our group, we look for social proof and authority cues. Social proof means that if a herd of people move toward an exit, we instinctively follow; the group knows something I do not.

Within our social identity, we still maintain individuation. As a group, we may prefer a brand, but within that brand, I may choose a product different from most. 

Authority maintains a group’s social identity and fosters individuation within it.

Authority is not might, it is right. Groups look to conscious and subconscious clues about a leader and then grant authority. May right and might always be wed. Might alone will eventually lead to mutiny.

As we swing away from authoritarian leadership styles, we must dismount before we surrender the value of true authority. True authority guards values and facilitates work; teams are looking for that kind of leadership. It’s human nature. 

Title represents knowledge, experience and expertise. People look for these. 

Authority protects and provides. People crave this. 

  1. Trend: Leadership as coaching. Wisdom: Don’t Coach. Advocate.

I recently read how leadership is transforming into being a “leader-coach.” Nope. If your idea of cutting-edge leadership is coaching, you are swinging backwards. You don’t jump from a backward swing; you fall out.

Let’s define terms. Some perceive coaching as being directive: A coach tells you what to do. That is not coaching. It’s closer to consulting or mentoring. Mentors pour in; coaches draw out. 

Coaching, which I love, draws the best out of another through questioning and listening. The goal is to help another discern their best thinking and create their best plan of action. 

It’s been around for a long time (basically the span of my career so far, and I love my coach).

There is a new dynamic on the scene that incorporates mentoring and coaching: Advocacy.

An advocate promotes personal, relational and professional well-being through being a coach, mentor and patron. 

Advocates come alongside persons or teams and press in, cheer on, work with and resource. They promote curiosity, learning, well-being and customized development.

Advocate is a newer player in the field of leadership; and she is a game-changer. You can learn more about it here

My coach made the transition. He became my advocate, and I feel even greater freedom in our relationship. Before, we honored a true coaching process. Now, even though my coach has always been focused on my needs, he helps me based not just on what I need but how I need to receive his help. That’s a big difference.

Frankly, there have been days where he has saved me. 

At some point, you must be determined on where you want to land, and therefore, precise about when to jump. Trends can be great; swinging can be fun.

Leaders land on solid ground. It’s all in the dismount.

Disrupt The Disruption: Why CxOs Must Keep Their Title, Exercise Their Authority, And Change The Way They Lead
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Photo by:
Myles Tan

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