Three Actions of Leaders

Sections of this topic

    In Skills for Leading the Fall (May 11, 2011) I wrote about a learning cycle for leaders that has three components:

    Self-Awareness: Understanding the forces acting around you and within you, observing your behavior and using this to course correct.

    Self-Discipline: The discipline to be “who” you need to be at the moment to deliver the results you seek.

    Self-Direction: Taking the action where it needs to go – operating as both an observer of the larger system, being on the Balcony, and a leader on the Playing Field.

    Today I am going to link this to the actions of leading, which I categorize along three dimensions: Doing, Thinking, and Relating.

    One leader, who we will call Sam, experienced his leadership as Doing when I first met him: achieving results, making tough decisions, and having authority over others. His leadership style was Pacesetting: focused on his personal achievements, operating from an “expert” stance, and defining success by results only. During this period Sam’s leadership was based on his technical know-how and his ability to personally get things done. This worked well until he became a team leader.

    As a team leader Sam’s Pacesetting style was derailing him…fast. With coaching Sam began to experience his success as occurring through the success of others. The Relating dimension of leadership activities emerged and Sam began to see himself as a coach instead of an expert. He shifted his attention to developing others using relationship to create collaboration, effectiveness, and trust. Not only did Sam’s team benefit emotionally, their results improved as their relationships with each other improved. Sam began to show up on the corporate talent radar and within the year he was promoted, specifically for his ability to bring forth a high-functioning team.

    Now, when Sam spoke of himself, it was as a results oriented leader of people. This allowed Sam’s Doing to shift from tactical to strategic, which was of particular interest to him. As his team broadened their perspective and used their diversity to accomplish stretch goals they became acknowledged as high-performers. Again Sam was promoted, becoming the leader of a product with a globally dispersed brand team but no direct reports.

    In this new role, Sam recognized quickly that too much Doing with too little Relating was threatening his new team’s performance and motivation. Initially frustrated with his lack of power and authority, Sam focused on the Thinking dimension. He began his tenure by meeting and listening to the majority of team members. Then, taking all this as food for thought, he designed a two-day meeting that brought the whole group (around 80 people) together in conversation rather than presentation. It was a stretch for the group and Sam had to tailor the meeting in real time to ensure the mix of Doing-Relating-Thinking was working.

    Over the year he spent much of his time thinking and reflecting before acting (Doing and Relating). In this way Sam added multiple new perspectives and actions to his leadership playbook. For example, there were times when he took the perspective of general manager, CFO, and even CEO. At other times he led from the perspective of one of the line functions or external stakeholders. The outcome? You guessed it, Sam was promoted to a position that required him to intentionally weave together all three dimensions.

    Lessons for Leaders

    Using Self-Awareness Sam intentionally chose which leadership activities to focus and act on in the moment – Doing, Relating, or Thinking.

    Using Self-Discipline he continuously integrated the three dimensions so that his leadership balanced organizational functioning (Relating), performance (Doing), and innovation (Thinking).

    Using Self-Direction Sam developed himself while guiding the direction of those he was leading.

    Now that you’ve met Sam reflect on two questions:

    • How do you define the Doing, Thinking, and Relating activities of leadership?
    • How do your actions as a leader depend on your definition of these?