Shifting into leadership

Do you feel stuck in a constant operating and managing mode? Steve Radcliffe says that you have to shift into a leadership gear to make ...

Do you feel stuck in a constant operating and managing mode? Steve Radcliffe says that you have to shift into a leadership gear to make a difference for you and your organisation.

Harry is a senior leader in Boots. I had met him in the first leg of the leadership development programme I was running there. He was pleasant enough, but I sensed no real spark from Harry at the time. Sadly I’ve met thousands of “Harrys” in business, government, education and charities – people who have lost sight of themselves as leaders and have slipped back into an “operator/manager mode”. Their focus is on managing and doing, not leading.

This happens for three reasons. First, we all have a well-developed operator/manager mode – after all, it’s our competence at doing and managing that helped us get promoted – and we feel comfortable in this mode. Second, although their organisations are asking the Harrys of this world to lead, they can also put them under relentless pressure to review the past and manage the present, rather than focus on the future. Third, our typical Harry does not grasp how fundamentally different it is to lead; thus, he can easily remain in operator/manager mode without ever thinking that anything’s missing. As a result, Harrys stagnate in organisations not being the leader they want to be, not making the difference they want to make and, at the same time, feeling far too busy to shift into leadership gear.

This is the bad news. The good news is that it doesn’t take long for such people to get re-energized and to transform their impact, if they have the backing of senior executives and if they know what to focus on as they move into a leadership mode. Richard Baker, chief executive of Boots (now Alliance Boots), exemplified such executive support. As he said in 2006, “I needed our senior leaders more confident and on the front foot. I wanted a significant shift in our leadership. [Leadership] development work helped us move there very quickly.”

Make the shift The key, really, is to make the shifts to leadership.

There are nine possible shifts which help people move out of operator/manager mode: Shifting to conscious leadership Not surprisingly, the first shift is to become massively more self-aware in the moment, aware of whether you are in leader mode now, and of what’s encouraging you to slip into operator/manager mode. Immediate growth as a leader comes from the following practice:

  • Distinguishing between what you are like in leader versus operator/manager modes (How do you feel? What’s your energy? What do you sound like?)
  • Identifying when you find yourself in operator/manager mode but don’t want to be
  • Then, picking moments when you will decisively choose to be in leader mode

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