How leaders know and then forget what they need to do to succeed

Most of the leaders who contact me know they have a problem. They are generally fairly new into role, perhaps a year or two. They have spent time observing with the childlike mind that you can only really do when you are new to a role, company or culture. You are hyper alert to behaviours, language, customs and relationships. Our instincts are taking in all this new information to enable us to find strategies to fit in and to be accepted. We all do it, but few of us do it consciously.

So soon we begin to accept the norms and start fitting in. You soon become acclimatised into the culture and stop noticing the big clues to what makes the company tick and perform. You ignore and eventually forget about the niggles and queries you had in those first few weeks. If only you had recorded all of those golden nuggets when everything was new and fresh. You would already have diagnosed the key blocks to business performance.

Instead you want to jump into action. You identify the problems, at least surface level ones, and start finding solutions. In those first few months you may tackle some immediate housekeeping issues. The low hanging fruit and no brainers are a great way to prove yourself and make a quick impact. We have all done it.

The change maker

Your people start noticing the impact you are having and momentum builds. You may encounter the naysayers and pessimists who long for you to be proved wrong, but you persevere and in those first six months you feel like things are changing. Results might start increasing and you are feeling pretty good.

Many leaders start looking at their leadership team in this honeymoon period. Some obvious candidates maybe moved out or moved on, and you may bring in new members to join your team. The new people maybe more aligned to your way of thinking and are grateful for the opportunity, so you already have built some trust and more importantly some allies.

With any restructure or reorganisation there is an burst of energy and change. With that comes uncertainty, but also a feeling of hope that things are changing for the better. The ripple effect starts and you are at the centre. You are probably feeling pretty good and you are enjoying the challenge. Leaders have a vision and genuinely want to make a difference. This is why they are leaders.

Eventually though things start to get into a rhythm. As the initial wins are embedded and the new team settle into their roles, you go about the daily business. Your diary gets full very quickly and you spend your time getting involved in the daily routine of problems, forecasting, plans and meeting after meeting. What once was new and exciting becomes normal business management. You spend your time planning, organising, delegating, monitoring and developing. All of which are essential to good management, the foundations, but you are no longer being a leader.

The results slow down

In the process of managing you may notice that some results just aren't coming in. You have a target to achieve and progress is slowing. You look to your team to help find the answers, take ownership and solve the issues. They now are focusing on their teams and functions, and falling into day to day management, and it falls on you to push and drive performance.

It's not as much fun anymore and it is getting hard. You are frustrated, impatient and taking the stresses home with you. You are so ingrained in the daily firefighting that you can't see the biggest blocks and barriers anymore. Now you need to diagnose, with the same childlike mind you had in your first few weeks.

This story or some variation plays out in most businesses around the world. It's not uncommon. Organisations are always changing and it is inevitable that you will get the ebb and flow of performance as part of the change management cycle. And as humans we all want to fit in and find a rhythm, and so we fall into comfort and ease. But as a leader you want more than the status quo and so do your people.

Remember what you know

When you took on the role you had a vision and a purpose. Keeping that crystal clear in your mind will help you stay focused on achieving it, with you people. But maybe you have forgotten you primary focus. Maybe you've taken your eye of the ball. Maybe you have settled into a culture where some relationships, behaviours or actions have become normalised, but are taking you further away from the results you want to achieve.

It's at this stage that leaders get in touch with me. They know things are moving at the rate they need them to move at. They may have some suspicions about why, but aren't sure how to build momentum again, not with breaking some eggs. They want to achieve results, have fun and to make a difference. Now is the time to start the diagnosis.

Leaders have a vision and genuinely want to make a difference. This is why they are leaders. - Lucy Barkas

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