When you stop to think about your job and your career, do any or all of these things resonate strongly with you?

Are you completely up to your eyes at work?  Is all of your energy going into:

Meeting deadlines        Delivering excellent work      Staying on top of everything       Supporting your team         Ensuring your team is performing        Attending meetings       Providing reports        Preparing key presentations for the leadership team

I’m not saying that these things aren’t important. They are, of course, a major part of the gig. But are you sure that you’re focusing on the right things and working smart, as well as hard, to continue to advance in your career?

Maybe you’re at a point in your career – probably at management/senior management level where you know that:

  • You are known and well regarded for your expertise;
  • You are considered reliable, steady, diligent, trustworthy;
  • Colleagues and management know they can count on you and you’ll get the work done;
  • Developing and mentoring/coaching your team is important to you; and
  • You’ve worked hard throughout your career to develop this reputation and performing and being like this has helped you succeed and achieve and advance your career to date.

Fabulous, you’re doing a great job! I imagine that this has served you well. Until now.

But is this what will help you to succeed in the next phase of your career?

Let me ask you this… are you sure that this approach is still working for you? Are you being asked to ‘step up’ but you are not sure how to do that? You’re already working as hard as you can and putting in all the hours that you can so what else can you do?

When you’re asked to lead, do you know what this really means? By leadership, do you sometimes understand management? Do you truly get what the shift between management and leadership is about?

I see it again and again in working with clients in coaching and leadership programmes, where diligence gets in the way of stepping up. Where focusing on the task at hand gets in the way of making space to influence and manage upwards. Where consistently looking after everyone else takes up headspace that could be used for engaging more strategically with the business.

Let me share with you the story of a client that I was working with this year, as her reaction to the work we were doing sums it all up perfectly.

We’d been considering what had been getting in her way in her career, why she wasn’t progressing the way she wanted to. As we worked through understanding what leadership looked like for her, the penny dropped.

“I wasn’t doing it, because I didn’t know I had to do it.” She gasped.

“I’ve had a total blindspot. I’ve been missing a huge chunk of stuff and it has hurt me more than once.”

“I was given feedback but I just didn’t understand what they were looking for. And I didn’t know how to ask to understand more.”

So what was she not doing? What was her blindspot?

She wasn’t doing less. She was focused on the tactical, what had to be done, managing the team. We think that it’s about doing more. But actually, it’s about doing less, allowing time to focus on the right and really important things that often get lost in ‘busy’.

She wasn’t spending time influencing more. She was so busy doing and delivering that she had no bandwidth or didn’t recognise the need to manage upwards.

She wasn’t prioritising time to think and time to engage strategically. Doing less doesn’t mean not doing your job but by empowering, enabling and supporting others to do more there is a two-way win. The team members are growing and developing and you’re creating headspace to up your game in a different way. With this comes an increased need for active issue management and escalation of risks.

Managing upwards can mean a number of things and you need to figure out what it means for you. It can be about providing input to the strategic objectives and direction of the business. It can mean representing your team to the executive and acting as the liaison between them – making sure that they are meeting the strategic needs of the business and making sure that the business knows the quality and value that your team is delivering.

Managing upwards means actively managing the key stakeholders across the business – not just your direct line manager. It means taking the time to build relationships that will serve you, your team and the organisation. It means engaging in a different way and shifting from the tactical to the strategic and bigger picture thinking.

In my experience of working with many organisations and 1:1 clients, this is where the bottleneck emerges. We talk about women in leadership, gender balance, quotas and unconscious bias. But if talented individuals are not supported in making this transition from management through to leadership, many very talented individuals remain stuck – and potentially frustrated at senior management level.

Companies invest in management development programmes for managers and leadership development programmes for those that make it to leadership roles. But great mentoring and coaching is a must to help feed the leadership pipeline with broader and more diverse talent. I’m conscious of my own possible bias here and know that some men also need support in navigating this career stage. In fact, who doesn’t! But research and experience suggests that women are more prone to this blind spot and can benefit from more support at this career stage.

Take the time to stop, reflect, re-focus and re-energise as this is what’s going to help you to set yourself up to succeed. Contact us to find out more about our group and 1:1 coaching and mentoring programmes.

Helping you to find your mojo.

XXX Clearbird

P.S. If this blog resonates with you or think it would resonate for someone you know, please like, share, tweet or forward on whatever media you like. E-mail is still good! I’d love to hear from you.