This year’s Edison Partners CEO Summit featured executive leadership expert, author, and Senior Managing Director at The ExCo group, Adam Bryant, who led attendees through a number of challenging topics including many facets of the all-important ‘inner game of leadership’. Bryant’s keynote sessions were underscored by pattern recognition he’s ascertained from over 1,000 interviews with executive professionals; when viewed as a collective, these insights point to a few key truths about what it takes to lead a company effectively. Here are three key takeaways from Adam Bryant’s presentation that can help you level- up your leadership game:
1. Leaders should know who they are...
… And their teams should, too.
An effective leader knows who they are. They can answer the question, “what are your core values as a leader?”, with the same confidence and self-assuredness they’d invoke when pitching their company during a 30-second elevator ride. They’ve done the hard work of introspection and have uncovered their leadership values, their strengths and their weaknesses — and they don’t let their weaknesses get in the way of their team’s effectiveness.
To take it a step further, Bryant noted that the best leaders describe themselves the same way their teams would describe them. That is to say, these leaders are bold enough to pressure-test their own thoughts of themselves, with how others describe and experience them. This point is particularly important as you continue to grow and develop as a leader: your perception of your leadership means little to nothing if it doesn’t align with your team’s perception of you.
Here’s a challenge for you: Think about your “leadership values pitch.” Now think (honestly) about how someone on your executive leadership team might describe you. Do these two versions align? If not, what can you do to be more of the leader you think you are – or perhaps want to be?
2. Trust underpins everything.
On a similar note, the more your team knows you, the more they trust you. Bryant describes trustworthiness as a simple equation, highlighted in The Trusted Advisor by Robert Galford, Charles Green, and David Maister:
A trustworthy leader should be competent, with enough knowledge and skill to move the company forward. They should be reliable (and/or predictable), executing at a consistently high level. They should maintain strong personal connections with their team, fostering relationships that empower each team member to perform at their best. Additionally, according to Bryant, a trustworthy leader must also be perceived by their team to act in the best interest of the company as whole. Note that even if you think of yourself as a selfless leader, what matters is your team’s perception of your self-interest. Even the most competent, reliable, well-connected leaders can be considered untrustworthy if their teams view their actions as selfish.
Here’s a challenge for you: Get those calculators out! Rate your levels of competence, reliability, and connectedness to your team. Then, think about (or, if you’re brave, ask) how your team perceives your self-interest (in this case, the lower the rating, the better). If this rating is higher than you expected, what might you change so that your team perceives you differently and trusts you more?
3. Stories are a leader’s greatest asset.
Bryant walked Summit attendees through what he calls the “three currencies of leadership”: insights, stories that bring these insights to life, and concrete approaches or frameworks developed because of these stories. What quickly emerged from this session was the importance of transparency and intentional reflection on your personal leadership origin story. The most effective leaders are able to think back on pivotal moments in their journeys, reflect on the lessons learned from these experiences, and integrate these lessons into their leadership approach.
It’s akin to the difference between hearing an unqualified stranger tell you how to run your business and engaging with an experienced operator who’s sat in your seat before and can tell the tales to prove it. Stories not only humanize you and make you more relatable, but they also build credibility so that your team is more inclined to follow your lead.
Here’s a challenge for you: Consider a pivotal time in your leadership journey when you fell short, or missed the mark, or faced a difficult struggle. What did this experience teach you (‘insights’)? How might you turn these lessons into frameworks, tips, or tools to better empower your team (‘approach’)? Have you shared this with your team?
Leading a growth stage, scale-up company is no easy feat, and growing as a leader requires introspection, reflection, and adaptability. Going slow, to go fast, is worth it! Adam Bryant’s keynote sessions offered practical insights into strengthening your leadership skills, but it’s important to remember that leadership is a long game strategy and a commitment to getting better requires doing the hard, inner work.
For more support or to brainstorm how we can help, please don’t hesitate to reach out – either directly to our Operating Partner heading our Leadership and People Center of Excellence, Steve Schloss, or to us at email@example.com.