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Part 3 of this four-part mini-series looks at Flexibility and Resilience.

Lots of people write about leaders having unclear aims, a confusing strategy, communicating it badly, de-motivating people and poor delegation. These mistakes are well-documented. It’s in business books, articles, podcasts, videos and ubiquitous on the internet. But what mistakes do leaders themselves talk about?

Part three of this mini-series looks at mistakes connected to flexibility and resilience.

I am lucky enough to have interviewed hundreds of global managers over the last decade and more. As a coach and consultant, I also have a background in finance and clinical psychology. That enables me to understand the business context and the human dynamics within a group.
The interviews were part of a change management project or 360-feedback interviews on executive performance. All of them were one-to-one – a format where people open up more and share what is really on their mind.

This is what executives say are their mistakes.

#1 Being a conduit for stress
Everyone in a leadership position is “in the sandwich”. They have bosses above them, and managers or employees below them. Everyone in the sandwich has experience of a toxic boss – unreasonable demands, little praise, lots of negative feedback. It’s tough to take it. The question is: where do you put the stress you get from your boss? You can channel it in different directions. The biggest mistake is to channel it, unfiltered down onto your team. This is simply being a conduit for stress. It leads to a whole host of performance problems and never ends positively.

Key point: Choice is the keyword. It’s your choice what to do with the stress. We all get people trying to put their problems, stresses and worries onto us. Can you absorb these negatives? Or do you pass them on to others, in effect you amplify the problem? It takes self-discipline and practice not to create a toxic culture. Start with identifying and practising your “escape valves” to release the pressure, like hobbies, interests or a specific post-work routine.

#2 Failing to adapt their leadership style to the culture they are in
Culture cuts many ways: national, professional, functional, geographical and so on. The list is endless. The point is: global leaders must be adept at moving between cultures. This is tiring work with little or no thanks. No surprise then, that weak executives stop doing it. For global managers, that refusal to adapt a leadership style most often leads to disengagement, de-motivation and lower performance.

Key point: Global managers must make awareness, listening, curiosity and flexibility part of their leadership DNA. These skills go with the job. They are not optional extras when operating successfully in a global environment.

#3 Uncomfortable with their life balance
There’s a whole load of nonsense written about successful executives who only work half a day or four days a week. The strange thing is: I’ve never met or spoken to anyone who has met anyone who is (a) a respected, successful executive who (b) has not spent a significant part of their life working long hours. The biggest investment to get to the top is time – your personal time. You made have phases in life where you invest less time in work. But getting to the top requires time. That’s time taken away from your own interests beyond work, your family, your friends and your community. It doesn’t mean you have no time for these groups; you just have less. Weak executives are not comfortable with this fact. They strive for an ideal that is unobtainable. Having invested in work, they defend their decision to try to prove they are living the “perfect life”.

Key point: Learn to live life to your metrics. Too many people think there is a single ideal lifestyle, often one inherited from their parents or peer group and fixed in their younger years. Learning to let go of the social ideal – what others at the country club think of you – is the hallmark of a truly satisfied and balanced leader. Doing it requires self-knowledge and the determination and resilience to push for what you want from life.

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Leading this product launch has taught me to be effective doing what I find naturally easiest – using trust and supporting people each step of the way. It augments my chances of making sure future product launches are as successful as this one.

MN Vice Director - Medical Marketing Europe

This process allowed people to re-appraise how this [senior team of managers] group was functioning or, rather, not functioning correctly. The tendency for each member of our group to see himself as an isolated beacon of excellence – which acted against the vital need for cooperation between members – were eased and communication is already becoming more 'normalised'.

RS Senior Director

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