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Letting goLeadership and letting go


As leaders progress through their careers they need to continually gain new skills, knowledge and capabilities. They’re often benchmarked against competencies they need to be able to demonstrate or develop and definitions of what it means to be talented as a leader almost always make reference to the ability to learn quickly and to learn from experience.

Most leadership development is wholly focussed on this continuous acquisition of new skills, new capabilities and new knowledge. Very rarely is a leader coached on what they might need to let go of. But, a bit like an overstuffed cupboard, wardrobe, garage…after a while, some things get worn from overuse, stale or dusty from underuse or just past their sell by date. It’s then time for a clear out.

So, what is it you might need to let go of?

An over reliance on those skills that got you to where you are now

In the early part of a leaders’ career, typically it’s their expert and specialist knowledge that’s played a large part in their success. For many leaders entry into leadership roles has been through their significant contribution as an expert.  Career progression for high performing experts often means a move into some form of management or leadership role.   This shift needs a leader to step out of the detail and move away from being the expert; instead to see the bigger organisational picture and to bring in or develop other talented experts. Failure to let go, can lead to micromanaging, an inability to prioritise and silo thinking.

Behaviours that no longer serve you well

At the more senior levels of an organisation, most people are smart and have the technical skills needed to do the job. What separates the successful from the less successful are their behaviours, their interpersonal skills and their emotional intelligence. In part that’s about developing new behaviours; but it’s also about recognising the beliefs, thinking and attitudes that are causing you to demonstrate behaviours that are holding you back. Sometimes we don’t know what these are. Here’s where seeking feedback really helps you to understand not only what you need to develop, but also what you need to stop doing. Psychometrics can help too, especially those that help leaders identify potential 'derailer' characteristics.

Old habits, rituals and routines

In order for us to be able to implement new skills, knowledge and capabilities, we have to let go of old ways of doing things. A definition of insanity (attributed to Einstein!) is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you’re looking for a different result, you have to look at changing or letting go of old habits, daily routines, and old ways of doing things. It’s hard to embed new habits when you’re still holding on to old ones.

I’m not much of a gardener, but I’ve got a Cherry Blossom tree at the bottom of the garden. Year on year, new leaves have grown but last year, pruning it all back, saw the most rapid growth and stunning display of blossom.

Letting go can be a powerful tool for self-renewal, making way for real growth. What do you need to let go of that’s holding you back?


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