Nov 9, 2022

Who's in your corner?

Leadership in today’s climate can be lonely, uncertain, daunting and distinctly overwhelming. In an era of constant flux, leaders need to ask themselves; Who’s in your corner? Who can you reach out to? How wide and how deep is your network? Who are your real advisers and confidantes?
Great leaders have the right people in their corner. They have access to a rich and diverse pool of talented people to call on as sounding boards for guidance and support.

The power of network

We are in another exponential crisis. Continuing war, economic and political instability, hybrid working, high inflation and a global recession looming. Leaders need to again take stock. Companies we’ve never previously heard of are now billion dollar organisations, new leaders are emerging and for many they’ve never experienced a recession. The competitive landscape is changing rapidly.

How do you as a leader keep yourself current? Both in terms of the organisational environment and your personal development? The wise turn to their network. 

“Team You”

It’s not about solely relying on yourself and your organisation. Ask anyone who’s been subjected to the brutality of tabloid headlines, about how the organisation placating them, actually helped them? And what one thing would they do differently? They’d have had their own team – and not relied on the organisation’s team whose job is to protect the organisation, not them. As they found to their cost.
How do you make it about you? It’s all about who’s in your corner, who you reach out to and who’s in your wider network. Ask yourself, who are you best supporters? Those around you who don’t let you go it alone or make poor decisions, those that keep you grounded and current, those that aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re calling it wrong. A little like having your own personal advisory board - your close team who help you to be the best you can be.
So who’s on your personal advisory board? Make time for yourself and invest in developing rich connections with like-minded and unlike-minded people. People with different backgrounds, experiences and views. People with different thinking, to enhance your own thinking. It’s about investing in your social capital.

Build your social capital

Latest research by McKinsey & Company has found that companies report a lack of social capital since the start of the pandemic, with fewer than 15 percent of employees reporting their network had grown and only a fifth of employees felt more connected to people in their network. Less than 20 percent felt their connections had grown, with women being far less likely to have seen their internal or external networks grow during the pandemic.

In terms of access as well as motivation and ability, is it about making workplace interactions more intentional? Social capital can be built in person and virtually, encouraged and built formally into performance management systems. Mentoring, sponsorship and accessing key influencers also enhances networking skills and motivation, as does leaders role modelling behaviours around building social capital. People savvy, more relational individuals create social network maps and identify the bridge builders and super influencers who are relevant to them, their job and potentially for their career success.

For me, it’s not about connecting with similar people. It’s about surrounding yourself with unlike-minded people, and that difference and diversity of thought is critical for sustainable competitive advantage.

Hashi Mohamed in his book, "People like Us" talks about the three types of capital; social, economic and cultural capital. How as a leader are you maximising your social and cultural capital through your network? Who are the key individuals in your network? How can you leverage cultural capital to further build your network? What is the quality of your overall network and does your network need an upgrade? 

Leverage your relationships

Herminia Ibarra's work on strategic networks shares some great insights on leveraging the power of relationships. She advocates a “relationship audit” – taking time out for a simple review of your network, who’s in it and any gaps. She suggests critically evaluating your contacts into these seven categories:

- Career Champions – who will sing my praises?
- Sources of feedback – who will give me honest feedback and challenge me to develop?
- Emotional support system – who will give me a positive boost?
- Organisational sages – who will help me understand the ins and outs of the organisation?
- Mentors – who will help me think through personal and professional decisions?
- Connectors – who has a large and diverse network and will introduce me to others?
- Power people – who has the power to make things happen?
Ibarra advocates sharing this with colleagues and people in your network to leverage existing relationships, identify new contacts and to reframe networking as a shared reciprocal activity rather than a transactional pursuit. As leaders, has there ever been a better time to grow and leverage a more diverse and balanced network?

Keep your competitors close

In an uncertain climate where companies are being acquired and small niche players are competing with multibillion companies, who do you consider are your competitors? Keep watch over your direct competitors, some competitors and vertical suppliers could become your allies, they don’t need to be your enemies. There is power in the collective.
Peter Jackson, Managing Partner of international law firm Hill Dickinson shares this as one of his secrets of success with Sane Seven in their book, "None of us are Superman".  He talks of sharing a tough people challenge with a Managing Partner at one of their biggest rivals who gave him some valuable advice that offered a fresh perspective and helped bring calm to a difficult situation.
Sharing sector experience, ideas and connections can bring competitive advantage, reassurance and a shared sense of purpose to the industry, in the face of larger competitive threats and economic uncertainty. Let’s not be blinkered about building relationships with competitors if they are willing to share and become allies in leadership. 

Seek game changing counsel

Leaders need to ensure they remain authentic and grounded, protected from the dangers of fawning followers, sycophants and group think. In his book, “Consiglieri: Leading from the shadows”, Richard Hytner talks about bi-leadership where there is an A and a C role. The A is ultimately Accountable for the enterprise and the C, the Consiglieri, counsels, supports and delivers to the Accountable leader.
The Consiglieri role isn’t just the second in command, but the leader-maker. This role is not about giving the A what they ask for, it’s about giving them game changing counsel so that they achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.
The Consiglieri enables their Accountable leader to be liberated, enlightened, educated and decisive, leading at their best. They support their A with constructive challenge, a significant differentiator as sadly we see so many times at senior level, you can be so removed from ‘real’ feedback. The Consiglieri role also extends to external, independent influencers and mentors able to support the A with complex and confidential issues.
Who is your Consiglieri? Or maybe you have a team of C's? How do they support you with game changing counsel? And if they don’t, is it time to find a Consiglieri that does?

Invest in you

As a leader, if you don’t invest in your own personal proficiency and mastery, how can you role model the best leadership qualities? How are you investing in you? How can you keep investing and developing yourself through continued crisis and uncertainty?
As leaders, we have a responsibility to keep investing in our people, ourselves and our network. Continually improving yourself and the quality of people around you will help you to keep current and stay ahead, whatever happens next.
Until very recently who’d have even considered war in Europe and that war planning for organisations to get their employees out of Ukraine would become part of the day job? Having the right leadership qualities and people around you will help you to navigate the unplanned and the unimaginable.
Investing in an Executive coach has become a must have for enlightened CEO’s and their teams. Someone who’s there for you and firmly in your corner. As a Supply Chain Director recently quoted in the Financial Times,

“If I want to improve financial performance, I speak to an FD.
 If I want to improve my own performance and be at my best, I speak to a coach”. 

Investing and partnering with a trusted coach enables you to explore different perspectives, prioritise competing demands and build the skills, capabilities and network around you, for you to be at your very best.  

Contextualise to capitalise

Research conducted by Harvard Business School found that great leaders were often defined less by their enduring personal traits and more by their ability to recognise and adapt to the opportunities created in a particular moment. Effective leadership is largely context-specific; the same person who succeeds in one era, might fail in another. And an era, or ‘zeitgeist’, is shaped by six factors: global events, government intervention, labour relations, demographics, social landscape and technological developments.
As the world shifts, so should leaders. Great leadership is about ‘contextual intelligence’, recognising paradigm shifts and exploiting fresh opportunities. In today’s zeitgeist, agility and the ability to recognise fresh opportunity in the face of political and economic disruption, pandemic, war and technological changes such as the metaverse, are essential skills to lead and engage people and organisations.
Who’s in your corner helping you to navigate this continual change? How can you recognise and respond to the shifting context you’re working in? If you’re too internally focused and not sufficiently externally and contextually focused, are you limiting your thinking? How do you remain agile, adapt and grasp the opportunities to stay relevant in an ever-changing context?
It’s about having the right people with you, with the right balance of skills, expertise and viewpoints to enable you to be at your best.

In this era of flux, who’s in your corner? Who’s helping you to master your self proficiency and maximise your social and cultural capital with a rich and diverse network at your side?