Keeping Your Balance

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it appears that President Obama is getting quite an education from both the Democrats and the Republicans. This type of education will hopefully result in the President learning how to keep his balance.

The life of a leader is always a balancing act but never more so than during a transition. Uncertainty and ambiguity can be crippling. One does not know what one does not know. Keeping one’s balance is a key transition challenge.

It is essential that the new leader avoid these seven traps.

1)      Riding off in all directions. You must focus yourself on what is important.

2)      Undefended Boundaries. It is important to establish boundaries around what you are willing and not willing to do. Otherwise bosses, peers, and direct reports will take all that you have to give.

3)      Brittleness. The uncertainty inherent in transitions breeds rigidity and defensiveness, especially in new leaders with a high need for control. The likely result will be over commitment to a failing course of action.

4)      Isolation. Isolation can occur because you do not take the time to make the right connections, perhaps by relying on a few people, on “official” information or, by discouraging people from sharing bad news with you.

5)      Biased Judgment. This difficulty manifests itself as over commitment to a failing course of action because of ego and credibility issues, confirmation bias (the tendency to focus on information that confirms your beliefs and filter out that which does not), self-serving illusions (a tendency for your personal stake in a situation to cloud your judgment), and optimistic overconfidence or underestimation of the difficulties associated with your preferred course of action. Vulnerability to these biases increases in high stakes, uncertain, ambiguous situations in which emotions can run high.

6)      Work Avoidance. The leader avoids making a tough call by choosing to bury him or herself in other work. This causes tougher problems to become even tougher.

7)      Going over the top. All these traps can generate dangerous levels of stress. When stress is too high it becomes counterproductive.

To avoid these traps the author recommends following the leadership transition program outlined in this document, creating and enforcing personal disciplines, and building support systems at home and at work that help you maintain balance.

Personal disciplines that should be considered are

  • Planning to Plan
  • Deferring Commitments until you are certain that you have time to fulfill the commitment
  • Setting aside time for hard work by prioritizing and eliminating distractions so as to concentrate on what needs to be done
  • “Going to the balcony” and allowing yourself to step out and distance yourself so that the problem may be perceived in a different light
  • Focusing on the process of influencing others through consultation
  • Checking in with yourself to privately reflect on the situation.
  • Recognizing when to take a break in order to reenergize yourself.

Building your Support Systems means getting your personal office set-up, stabilizing the home front as your spouse and family are transitioning too, and building your advice and counsel network. This network should include people who can guide you on technical issues, such as expert analysis of technologies, markets and strategies; cultural interpreters who will help you understand the culture; and political counselors who will help you deal with political relationships.

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