8 success practices for the new leader in the high stakes corporate world

1. Be YOU-SMART first

Self-awareness is a leading indicator of happiness and success because if you are aware of what is in your mind you can self-regulate a negative thought before it triggers bad behavior and cripples your executive presence. Don’t retreat to a default behavior of lashing out, withdrawing, defensive posturing or paralysis. Be mindful of your thoughts. Become an observer of them without inserting yourself into the emotion of them. Be gentle with yourself. Be self-compassionate when you doubt yourself. If you know your strengths, play to them. Surround yourself with people who have your weaknesses as their strengths so that you may observe their behavior.

Define your personal values so that you know when you are out of alignment with them and can readjust in situations as opposed to trying to achieve an expectation that isn’t in alignment with your authenticity. Personal values are simply the things you hold dear that no one can take away from you such as humor, family, freedom, creativity. Whether you are at the board room table or the dinner table, know who you are and appropriately manage your emotions no matter where you are seated. High performing leader don’t judge, criticize, or get emotional. They listen, analyze for a purpose, give sensitive and meaningful feedback and self-regulate negative emotions.

When you feel grounded, you will not embarrass yourself by trying to impress others or waste time defending yourself. You will engage people to follow you because of how much you care about them and can align their values with the project at hand. It starts with being mindful of your thoughts.

2. When you are anxious find the Pause Café

Be vulnerable. It means you are human. Don’t armor up against the fact that you may feel insecure in a new role. You are in a high stakes position and what you do, say and think matters now more than ever. You may even suffer from a touch of ‘imposter syndrome,’ thinking that you may not even deserve to be in your new role. Nonsense. Do not let self-doubt hamstring your progress or impact. You have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself. Stay focused on what you were hired to do. Know succinctly what your deliverables area. Emotions are helpful because they are your trigger that something needs to be addressed. Get curious about your emotions. Just don’t let them unravel out of control as an outburst at work.

Executive leaders need to regulate their emotions in the moment so that they may remain open to opportunity and develop engagement. High performing executives do not lose their temper, withdraw, become passive aggressive, divide colleagues, create camps of “yes’ people, or lead with a personal agenda – because all of these things simply drive people away from you and not to you, leaving you ineffective. These behaviors are all defenses for not being able to deal with difficult emotions. Executive leaders face and manage the truth of their emotions before their emotions manage them. Mindfully practice the steps to ‘The Pause Café’ so that when you feel stressed, threatened, or worried this method will quickly release the tension and shift perspective before your behavior repels your team and the people you care about.

P – Pause and take a deep breath.
A – Ask yourself, “What is going on with me?”
U – Untangle what is an “Assumption” and what is “Truth.”
S – Step back and allow the constricted view to open. Physically take a step backward and imagine a peaceful, word, color, smell, song, person. What else could be going on?
E – Extend Compassion to yourself. You can even bring your hand to your heart and tell yourself, “I am calm and effective.” Then extend Compassion to others. “She is just doing the best she knows how.”

3. Be a thought leader

Think BIG! Don’t be situation focused. Know the mission, vision and values of the organization so that when there is discord you can go back to them to ground yourself and the team. Study key metrics, market share, goals and drivers so that you have clarity on what is important. When divisions, departments, colleagues and leaders are at odds, position yourself to have clear focus on the vision of the organization; it’s not a turf war. Your internal resources are not the enemy. Confusion is the enemy. Listen deeply. Separate the people from the problem. Understand their fear. Build alignment where everyone feels heard. And create solutions.

Most work environments today are project-based. Teams need to make more decisions without approval from above, forcing them to think strategically at all times. Think independently. Anticipate problems before they occur. Don’t concentrate on the minutia. Before you address a problem make sure you are addressing the right problem and not just an issue someone is having. Who else will be affected? Who else should be at the table? Think a year down the road. Think five, ten and fifteen years the road.

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4. Have your boss’s back

This is the first law of power in the corporate setting. Your boss can mentor you, give you experience, and position you to advance. Instill trust in your work ethic. Always set him or her up for success. A boss who knows you have his or her back will support you in an even greater proportion because they are best positioned to be your strongest advocate. You may not agree with everything they say or do. Your job is not to second guess them. While in your role, your job is to have their back and be their go-to person. If it is philosophically impossible for you to find a way to do that – it is time to move on. You will never perform at your best if you are not in alignment with your boss.

You will need to get along with every member of your peer team but your most important relationship is with your boss. Meet with him early and ask, “In six months if I am to be successful in this position, what would that look like?” At meetings always be respectful of your boss. If you question something she is doing, ask for clarification in private.

5. Learn to ‘deep listen’ and have meaningful conversations

When you are at a meeting, don’t worry about what you have to say, listen to the others present. You’ll know you are doing this right if you aren’t formulating what you want to say when others are talking. If you deep listen, you will ask questions that make people take notice. You will hear opportunity. You will validate. You will self-manage in a way that makes everything you say relevant and not just calling attention to yourself. Deep listening commands respect. When you listen deeply you are able to affirm back what you heard and what the inference was. When you can do that it builds trust.

Typically, we listen for the other person to take a breath so we can say what we have to say. Or we try to solve their problem for them before establishing trust and they end up not doing what we have to say anyway. When you can ‘deep listen’ and simply affirm back what you have heard a bond begins to occur that leads to trust. The other person starts to value your opinion because they feel understood.

Have compassion. Care about people as more than a productivity metric. The ‘Productivity Model’ of management doesn’t work. Connect what they personally value to the values of the organization. “Tell me about why what we do is important to you.”

If you want to be relatable and connect, you must know how to stop speaking and deep listen. When you present an idea at a meeting, ask each person to share their thoughts on the issue without commenting until all of the people at the meeting have had a chance to comment. This creates a safe environment for people to share their thoughts. Then recap what you’ve heard and ask them to comment again. At that point you are ready to comment and ask questions. Repeating this process will train you to hold back and allow for new ideas to come forth – ideas you had not considered that are important.

The Leader’s Process for Presenting a New Idea to the Team

Present Idea > Ask each person for feedback > Recap feedback > Ask for feedback on the recap > Summarize again > Then you comment.

If you editorialize people’s comments right after they comment people will stop commenting. That’s human nature. Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

6. Understand the company culture and build alliances right away

Wherever you are in your career, establish connections with key people. First impressions are cast very early. Be known as an authentic collaborator who builds alignment. Who are the key people that influence your work? Meet with them. Ask them many questions about them. That will tell them all they need to know about you.

Organizations need leaders to think independently, problem solve with diverse peer groups and manage their own time, workload, career path, and relationships. Don’t wait for someone to walk you through any of these. You own it. You are your own manager.

Find out very quickly how decisions are made within your organization. Make an appointment in an informal environment such as a coffee shop or over lunch with every member of your peer team. Ask them how decisions are made. Observe the hierarchy of decision making. What is the protocol? Ask them if they were you what would they do in your role.

Meet with each member of your team individually and ask them: 1) What should we do more of?; 2) What should we do less of?; and 3) What can we eliminate?

7. Establish front-sight-focus on what is measured

Front-sight focus is a military tactic that has a metaphorical application to business. Define the precise metrics you, your department, and your company use to measure success and don’t stray from your target. Meet with your boss regularly to review your job description and your key performance indicators. Don’t allow for any surprises at your annual review. Make sure you hit and exceed the established goals. Plan the pace, resources and connections required to reach your goals. And stick to work that drives and achieves those metrics. Don’t get distracted with shiny objects, trends, competing opinions and the like. That doesn’t mean don’t innovate. It means focus on the goals and reinvent processes along the way that streamlines the course. What can you eliminate to make time for what is important? If you have a new idea, research its viability before you publicize it for discussion. Be able to explain how it furthers the mission and vision of the project or organization. Show how you will implement it. Be focused on the target.

8. Be known for strong character

Be true to your word. Be sound in your behavior. Do not speak unkindly of anyone. Listen but do not comment if the remarks are negative.

If someone is jealous of you be silent. Allow them their misery all to themselves. It’s their journey not yours. Do not engage in undermining them or gossip. Be true to yourself and a servant leader to all, including them. If their jealousy of you makes it difficult for you to succeed or be around them try to understand what it is they fear. Being less than? Being unnoticed? Not advancing? Then sincerely validate their positive qualities that will counter their fear. “I notice how you…. Great work.” “You really stood out on that.” “That really makes a difference for the company.” Be known for strong character.

People will forget what you say and do but never how you make them feel.

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be more calm and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at www.MaryLeeGannon.com