In Search of A Leadership Capability Stack

I just completed a project for a client that included a review of their digital marketing capabilities. Our job was to support the leadership team in developing a roadmap to improve a couple key marketing capabilities so they could go from “good” to “great” over the next couple years. It’s work every marketing leader should do.

As I met with leaders inside the org and as I tapped other folks I know outside the org for input, i realized the classic consultants dilemma: the roadmap is only the map. You might have the best plan in the world, but you need good drivers to reach the destination.

After we wrapped up the project, I knew the real work would come down to leadership: Decision making, maintaining prioritization, supporting the team, advising “up” and “around” all while delivering the “good manager” behaviors. Luckily, the folks we worked with were skilled, experienced leaders who were committed to their team and building the teams’ skills, first. (It was inspiring to hear them talk about growing the team’s abilities while rebuilding the capabilities). They are pros. They know how to do the job of leading a team inside a complex org.

But, i think leading the team is only half the battle. They also have to manage themselves.

I wish our work would have addressed need all leaders have today to build (or rebuild) their own personal leadership skills. Like any leaders of change, they’re going to need the “traditional” competencies a good manager/director/vp needs – Develop a vision, communicate the vision, create strategies, guide the team, build a plan, deliver results, etc – but they’re also going to need to be high performing at some personal leadership (or personal management) skills to maintain effectiveness. How do you fight politics? How do you recognize when someone else’s skills are getting in your way? How do you sustain the energy and effort to make real change happen?

Every leader today needs to build their own capacity to drive change and sustain their teams, otherwise the org and the work will suck the energy out of them.

What are the critical personal leadership capabilities a Director or VP needs to have today, to keep moving forward and not get crushed by change? What’s in your “stack” for leading yourself? Are you working on:

  • Staying centered – Intellectually, emotionally, in the present; When change and a dynamic life/work balance try to throw you off. Can you bring yourself back to the moment, in the present, and find “level”?
  • Staying committed – When there are reasons and pressure to change your mind; when politics or social dynamics may create the wrong sort of influence, do you have the ability to stay committed to your vision, to your decisions
  • Staying responsive – Knowing when to change direction, make a fast decision, pursue an emergent opportunity. Sometimes it means changing priorities. Sometimes it means stopping what’s not working
  • Creating Clarity – Having the ability to create a clear picture of the situation, to cut through ambiguity and “could be” or “Should be” to get at “what is”, and then create action. The ability to bring yourself (and possibly your team) back to focus.
  • Executive Functioning – Are you aware of how you make decisions and how you’re processing and acting on information. Are you responding intuitively all the time? Are you pre-processing and over- analyzing all the time? Do you know how your brain is or isn’t helping you over time?
  • Growing – Do you have the ability to add new skills, build new insights into your own abilities, take in feedback and modify what you’re doing to get better at it? Are you actively developing yourself? Making time to practice and review and reflect in an effort to build and grow?

I’m working on understanding my own “capabilities” stack as a leader/manager/individual. It’s definitely one of those “the more you know the less you know” situations. So, i’m trying to connect with more leaders to see how they are, in effect, managing themselves. I’m not looking for “hacks” or shortcuts, but i am looking for the ways these leaders are building a practice around their own development.

Ultimately, i wonder if I need my own Capability Maturity Model and my own roadmap, to get me from “current state” to my desired “future state”. Who do i hire to help me with that?

Beyond these skills, it’s also clear that every leader needs to have, for themselves, some assets to help them in their work. It’s the sort of obvious stuff – A clear vision for themselves, a trusted set of advisors, tools to help them learn and develop their skills, a sense of their own history, an actual plan to grow and develop – but that’s for another post.

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