Demonstrating leadership does not require a specific title or rank in an organization. Whether you are a CEO, assistant manager, intern, replacement hire, new hire, or even a recent college graduate looking for a first job, it is important to be able and willing to take on a leadership role at any given point in time throughout your career. In today’s complex business world, management positions are not always clear cut. Employees may work as a team on an equal playing field or work under multiple supervisors at a time. At one point or another in your career, you may find yourself having to lead a group of people who you have no formal authority over. When this is the case, there are several techniques and principles that will lead you on the road to success. Throughout my many years as an executive advisor with the Sandler Group, I have found the following principles to be the most effective:
Positivity, hard work, and enthusiasm are contagious. Individuals who show genuine passion and appreciation for their work often deliver great results and motivate others to do the same. People are naturally drawn to leaders with a clear vision and high level of enthusiasm. Even when you are not directly in charge, you can always offer leadership by raising the overall energy of a group, and motivating them around one common goal. Often, pure emotion and leading by example are more effective strategies than giving orders and directives.
Maintain Your Ego
In order to demonstrate leadership effectively, one must do so without acting arrogant or looking for approval. When an egocentric individual does have authority over a group, the group will often complete the required tasks, but may do so begrudgingly and without optimal effort. As this is the case, an egocentric individual giving instruction to a group without formal authority will not be taken seriously. When employees don’t respect their leaders and are left uninspired, their work ethic becomes less efficient, causing their business to slowly decline. Be open to others. Recognize that you are not the one who needs to have all the answers; rather you are the one to help bring about the best answers from the group.
Be Invested- Ask Questions
An effective informal leader does not stand around keeping watch over other individuals. Rather, the informal leader plays an active role in the group’s efforts by being authentically inquisitive and asking questions. The ultimate goal of any leader is to ensure a certain outcome is achieved effectively by a group of individuals. How that leader goes about his efforts determines how successful the outcome will be. Being engaged in a project as a leader will have a positive influence on the others in the group, showing them you are just as invested in the project as they are. Demonstrating inspiring and authentic leadership skills will make a big difference in the success of your business as well as the success of your career.
Leland Sandler helps teams surpass challenges and improve their leadership, team building, and communication skills.
With over 30 years of experience in education and executive advising, I have gained many rewarding experiences working with a wide range of clients. Working with a diverse group of individuals, however, means that every situation is unique, which can lead to certain obstacles and challenges the executive advisor must overcome.
Some of the major challenges an executive advisor may face while working with a client include:
Having a client who sees advising simply as a “nice to have” luxury rather than a necessity
Having a client who is not willing to confront their blind spots; or having a client who has identified their blind spots, but is not willing to engage in changes that will lead to successful growth
Working with a client who is not open to feedback on their performance or how they “show up”
Getting clients to make the necessary investment in themselves or in their teams (even with ROI data to support an investment)
To sum up these challenges, it can be difficult to work with a client who is not fully committed to making the necessary changes to improve themselves, their employee and team relationships, as well as their entire business. The first step to making a positive permanent change is to recognize the need for change and to prepare oneself to do whatever it takes to make that change a reality.
Once a client is committed to creating positive change, there are still a number of challenges they must work through with their executive advisor to excel in their position and bring their business to a higher level of success. Today’s business world is an uncertain, complex, and ever changing environment which has a large impact on the executive advising strategy. Some of the most challenging and significant advising strategies include:
Helping a client understand that every person is unique; having the ability to tolerate complexity and ambiguity is one of the most important aspects that make up a strong leader.
A leader has to be assessed in relation to the level of complexity their job or company is demanding of them. An executive advisor must look at how a leader copes and reacts to things like complexity, different perspectives, and abstractions and determine what the demands of the position are calling for.
Dealing with uncertainty calls for courage and openness; an advisor looks to help a client recognize the value of points of view that are different from their own. The advisor must help the client understand the value of being truly curious as to how others see a certain situation and what they propose to do about it.
However, once all is said and done, the final results of a successful advising experience far outweigh the challenges and difficulties faced along the way. Seeing an individual gain the courage to confront themselves and the strength to push forward through setbacks is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had as a professional. Executive advising is all about making real change happen; helping business leaders and teams discover different ways of communicating, making difficult decisions, and dealing with conflict.
Startups are great in terms of cultural development because it’s a fairly easy thing to do. They’re small, the work is not that involved, they start practicing certain ways of acting from their very beginning, so it’s not a difficult thing to implement. Executive advisor Leland Sandler discusses how the process should start by identifying the fundamental principles of what’s going to make the startup successful or minimally, what’s going to at least initially keep it from failing, defining what success means and what the main ways are to get there.
Leland Sandler speaking at an HR conference in Zurich
An executive advisor plays a key role in establishing powerful and enduring change in businesses and organizations through a unique set of strategies and techniques. An executive advisor creates the conditions for individuals and teams to overcome their own internal barriers to change, to take stock of and transcend their own blind spots, and to see errors and weaknesses as prime opportunities for personal growth. Once the strategy for execution is established, the advisor helps the client instill the process, through practices, tools, techniques, and structure, that leads them to permanently change themselves for the better.
A professional may seek the service of an executive advisor for a number of reasons. Listed below are some of the most common roles an executive advisor takes on throughout his career:
Expand the ability of leaders and CEOs to deal with the increasing complexity of the world in which they operate in
Help professionals deal more effectively with a number of possible constituents including board members, direct reports, customers/clients, as well as business development relationships
Assist first time CEOs in need of a safe sounding board to help guide them and challenge them in areas where they do not yet have experience
Provide direct, honest feedback to professionals and someone to hold them accountable as they deal with important and challenging issues
Identify differences and issues between individual team members (work styles, communication, decision making, etc) and make concrete suggestions on how to better optimize execution and meeting their goals.
While it is important for the executive advisor to be experienced and knowledgeable to provide efficient advising service to the client, it is equally important for the client to be a good advising candidate. A good advising candidate is someone who is open to the possibility of personal change, no matter how successful he or she has been in the past. An executive advisor will work best with someone who is willing to stay the course even when they finally confront a key issue about themselves and/or their team.
A good advisor-client relationship is highly confidential and personal. It requires a great deal of trust on the part of both parties. Advising involvement can vary from meeting with a client every couple of weeks to attending key meetings as well as individual advising meetings each week.
The key to being a successful executive advisor is to be able to effectively identify the focal issue or opportunity that the client most wants to go after. The advisor then must spend a fitting amount of time with the client to provide the initial scaffolding and structure necessary to bring about permanent change.
Hiring a veteran military officer brings your company a foundation of skills and competencies that you’re unlikely to find almost anywhere else in the private sector. These individuals are disciplined, have an exceptional work ethic and success orientation – characteristics key to the leadership of any business.
I had the incredible opportunity to work with the military through the San Diego Chamber of Commerce Military Advisory Committee. I and other San Diego-area business leaders gladly gave our time to these men and women who are making such a huge difference for our country. In my case, I used my expertise as an executive advisor to provide career development advice to officers who were about to come out of the military. Starting with basic questions such as what was important to them and what they thought they might want to do as a civilian, we determined, based on their skill set (especially leadership skills) what industry and what role might be a good fit. Through the members San Diego Chamber of Commerce we placed these officers into private sector jobs, greatly easing their transition from military to civilian life.
As an executive advisor I immediately saw the leadership skills possessed by military officers. What was interesting is that those skills were not as immediately apparent to many of them, as they often misjudged how readily applicable their military leadership experience was to the private sector. It’s true that one of the challenges some military officers face when they get out into the private sector is their hierarchical orientation. This is a key part of the military’s organizational structure. Yet, in today’s business world, we’re looking for flatter and flatter organizations. We’re looking to drive decision down throughout the organization, to broadly empower. In my advisory sessions with these officers I was able to explore with them key ways private sector leadership differed from military leadership, along with strategies for most effectively channeling their leadership abilities. While just about any career shift involves adjustments and adaptation, the skills and experience veterans obtained in the military form a solid foundation for senior leadership in business.
In my career as an executive advisor, I’ve learned a number of things both about myself and about business.
As for myself, I realized early on that I needed to embrace an ongoing process of self-development and self-improvement. This ongoing process is a way in which I could become a better version of myself and, consequently, a better asset to my clients. This process of self-development and self-improvement is what I use with all my clients. Living it myself has made me more effective in helping others embrace and live it.
From a business perspective, the most important thing I’ve learned is how to build authentic relationships. I spend a great deal of time going to different events, meeting different people and discovering who they are, what they’ve learned and what I might be able to learn from them. When I look at building relationships, I don’t think about it from the standpoint of whether I am going to get work from it or not, I’m thinking about it largely in terms of connecting with other individuals. The result, interestingly enough, is that almost every relationship has been of value; whether in a personal way, or helping me build a successful business.
For the past seventeen years, I’ve done the bulk of my work advising life sciences executives and it’s been exceptionally rewarding. I have learned what it is to work with dedicated scientists and engineers building products that affect the lives of millions of people. It is an industry where I’ve also built lasting relationships and learned about the complexities of leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies, lessons that are applicable to other industries as well.
Finally, building any business is challenging. Being an executive advisor has given me a vantage point to understand the challenges a wide range of issues and challenges that executives face in building their businesses. A somewhat unique challenge to my work is getting the business community to see the work of an executive advisor as a need to have rather than a nice to have. In learning how executives change other people’s assumptions, I am learning how to change assumptions about executive advising related to real value. I have learned that my work needs to be focused on metrics and results. All the work I do has specific outcomes that we hold ourselves to. I discuss that with the client on the front end. I measure throughout the process. And I measure at the end. I want to demonstrate that the executive advising makes a fundamental difference in their business.