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Boundless Leadership: Rising to Power – a book review

Much has been made of the transition from expert to manager. In Rising to Power by Eric Hansen and Ron Carucci, the authors shed light on the hazards and adaptations leaders need to undertake as they assume the mantle of authority.

Mike Wilson (Unsplash)

It’s not often I interrupt my newsletter writing schedule with a hat tip to someone else’s book. So, take note! Rising to Power by Ron Carucci and Eric Hansen is a worthy read.

Ideas on Power

We know the stories about hubris. Where someone gets all cocky and arrogant about their new found authority. They run stories like, “I deserve this!” It does not take long before they feel the pain of their mistake as a social pariah. The only mandate to embrace, so the authors assert, is one of service – to others, to the organisation, to becoming a better version of self. Humility not hubris is important here.

What we don’t often know about power is how people sometimes shirk or avoid it. Becoming a leader needs being able to make tough decisions that others won’t like. New leaders balk at this as the thought of losing their peer group, their social network, is tantamount to social death. This is the downfall of the unprepared new executive. In changing power roles, your social networks DO change, people DO treat you differently. You have power over them and though you have not changed as a human being the situation has. The new executive needs to adapt and form new social bonds with their new peer network.

Ideas on Focus

According to the authors, there are three spheres of focus:

  1. The operating system – this is where the execution of the work happens with clients

  2. The coordinating system – this is the traditional land of management, where resources are allocated and organised

  3. The strategic system – this is where you work on the system itself. As leader in this sphere you work to improve and expand the health and resilience of the entire system.

The challenges inherent in moving to the strategic system is that time frames expand out. You need to be focusing more on long range projects and issues. The zing of success that comes from dealing with the urgent and immediate is gone. It’s time to redefine success and look for satisfaction elsewhere other than the ticking of boxes off the to do list.

Ideas on change

The savvy new executive is aware that they want to have impact on the organisation and change it, as well as know that in doing so they too will be changed. Seeking feedback is critical.

The Four Superpowers

The authors showcase their ten years plus research that reveals successful executives have the four following domains:

  1. Power in breadth

They understand the ins and outs of the business in all its facets. They are clear on the culture and systems that create the effects and results of the company.

  1. Power in context

Successful executives know the trends and influences happening outside the organisation in the broader sector and community and globally. They take a helicopter view and long-range perspective to get a sense of what is coming and what has been.

  1. Power in choice

Being able to understand your own decision-making preferences and bias is the first step. Next is to be clear and express what kind of decision-making approach will be used in different contexts. There is no one size fits all for effective decision-making!

  1. Power in connection

You can’t go past the powerful effect of speaking truth with respect. How we treat others matters.

Rising to Power is a great book, and I will be recommending it to all new executives who want to avoid common pitfalls and set out on a stronger footing.

What I think

Leadership is a privilege. To be the face that others turn to for guidance, inspiration, direction, support, decisions, dispute resolution, ideas, feedback, and a number of other services, is a tremendous vote of trust.

I don’t think we’re ever truly ready for what it means to be a leader, with all its sacrifices, pain, and responsibilities heaped one on top of the other. If we were just looking after ourselves, we would never do it!

But that’s the thing. Successful leaders balance the attraction of privilege and all its trappings with purpose, in service to a greater good. What calls us out from the safe nook of privacy is not power after all, but the desire to create something of value for people, planet, and place.

What calls you out to leadership? How attracted are you to the pull of power? What balances that pull for you? Where have you seen power in leadership used well? Used badly?

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Zoë is on a mission to encourage big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference. She is passionate about showing leaders how to challenge limitations so they can live and lead with boundless energy, confidence, and conviction. With over 30 years experience developing leaders, she has published three books: Composure: How Centered Leaders Make the Biggest Impact, Moments: Leadership when it matters most, and Loyalty: Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and create lifelong advocates. These are available here.

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