Think about other people not just about yourself!
This is something we were all told as kids. As adults, we may try to live up to it too. But, in the business world there comes a time when it is a critical and career defining mantra.
For young executives aspiring to progress in competitive environments the focus is very much on ‘my’ contribution and ‘me’ standing out as an individual. The time to shift attention from yourself to thinking about others is when you are promoted to leadership and this is a very difficult shift to negotiate.
In his new book, Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, William Gentry a director at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), says to be a successful boss and one people like working for, you need to “flip your script” from ‘me’ to ‘we’ – focusing on helping the people you lead so that the group can prosper.
As Gentry points out, the things that won you promotion in the first place – subject matter expertise, technical savvy and individual success – are not going to be enough to make you succeed as a leader. This conundrum, according to research he quotes, must lie behind why 40% of new leaders fail within 18 months, 82% are not rated as excellent, and 50% are rated as incompetent by their co-workers.
Gentry’s book focuses on the key moment of becoming a leader for the first time – “One of the biggest and most stressful psychological and emotional shifts you will ever experience” – moving into an important role on which your organization will depend, but one for which you’ll have had little formal training and one that has almost nothing in common with your previous role.
Gentry draws on both his years of studying and training new leaders and on his own personal experience to write this very readable book, that according to Wharton professor Adam Grant is “A tour through the art, science and practice of leadership.” Gentry’s core idea is that we all have scripts that tell us how to act. As a worker, the script is all about your individual contribution. Flipping that ‘me’ script to focus on your team, means flipping your mindset, your skillset, your work relationships, your ‘do-it-all’ attitude, your view of the organization, and more.
The book takes the reader through each of these essential ‘flips’, offering practical, research-based advice and examples drawn from Gentry’s work at CCL. But more than being just a series of best practices, it explains how to internalize a leader's perspective so that as you face an ever changing set of challenges you will have a firm understanding of yourself as a leader, the value of the team you lead, and how to help them succeed.
Gentry warns against thinking we have to be perfect as leaders. We all make mistakes and we can learn from them, and “Rome wasn’t built in a year”– developing as a leader will take time.
However, he also highlights two areas where flipping focus has a deeper significance. First the ethical dimension – the need for integrity when making decisions, the importance of values, walking the talk, and building trust; and secondly how your behaviour as a leader has a wider impact – “Your actions and decisions can affect lives of not just people you lead and serve, but your family, friends, and possibly people way beyond your control or span of influence, now and into the future.”
William A. (Bill) Gentry Ph.D. is currently the Director of Leadership Insights and Analytics and a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). He is also an adjunct assistant professor in the Psychology department at Guilford College and an associate member of the graduate faculty in the Organizational Sciences doctoral program at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, by William A. Gentry, published by Berrett-Koeher, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-62656-625-5