When I was going through the executive leadership curriculum at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (now the Eisenhower School), speakers and readings continually repeated the notion that executive leadership was different; that the skills we learned as majors and lieutenant colonels would not make us successful as colonels and generals.
At the time, I gave that idea little credence. “Leadership is leadership” I thought to myself, how could it be that different? Then I graduated and went on to an executive position at the Pentagon and found that everything they taught me was–wait for it–true. Executive leadership was different! I spent a lot more time gaining consensus around ideas and building relationships than giving orders and making plans. I had fewer people reporting to me on the staff, but more people from whom I needed support to further my goals. Less details and more concepts. More strategy and less tactics.
An “Ah-Ha” Moment
That particular “ah-ha” moment for me was after I returned from a meeting where my senior executive boss sent me to represent him. When I returned, I started to relate the topics of discussion to him and he stopped me to ask, “Who was there?” I responded with the names of the various organizations represented and he stopped me again, “No, no…who was there?” (meaning, he wanted to know the names of the people at the table). Then he asked me, “Where were they sitting?” The seating chart and the names of the people in the meeting told him something important. It told him what his peers thought and their relative importance to the Principal. The lesson was less about “office politics” and more about the way senior people work with each other at the senior levels. Executives work more through relationship and collaboration than through strict lines of authority. That’s not to say formal authority isn’t important–but it’s less important than the informal influence senior leaders exert.
What They Said
Over at Lifehacker, they’ve borrowed a Harvard Business Review article that addresses that very subject:
An internal battle rages inside many high performers who advance from positions where they thrived as individual contributors to positions that require them to depend on others. On the one hand, they pride themselves on knowing more than anyone else about their area and like feeling confident in their abilities to deliver exceptional work. On the other, the scope of their new responsibilities no longer makes keeping up on all the details possible—or even preferable.
Read the rest at Harvard Business Review (via Lifehacker)
Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.