How to Be an Indispensable Leader

By: Cindy Wahler

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My client, a very successful senior executive with a career trajectory that has taken off at mach speed, has captured the art of leadership. He believes that true leaders must have broad currency with a skill set that goes way beyond technical acumen. We all know or understand that leadership skills will always trump technical skills.

No leader works in isolation. Technical expertise is your entry ticket. Once admitted to the club, the ability to advance and get to the premium seats requires a host of complex leadership skills.

These skills are complex because despite all the books on leadership we know there is no formulaic equation. This same leader defines top tier leaders as requiring "versatility." What he is referring to is the ability to be placed into a leadership seat and gain the confidence of constituents. This leadership seat may mean that a candidate is to be considered for a number of different roles. It is believed that they will excel at stake-holding regardless of the line of business.

In order to syndicate successfully the skills required to gain traction are not only dependent upon subject matter expertise. Being technically correct is imperative, but equally important is the ability to build a profile with leaders who are the key decision makers. Leaders who matter carry weight; this is what we mean by executive presence.

Speaking with conviction translates into getting others on board. It means moving others into positions that might be contrary to their natural order. Leaders who drive organisations do so by creating a compelling case for change. This cannot be built on technical expertise alone. Connecting with others, selling ideas, and shifting from a cerebral style to one of passion will create the necessary momentum.

Reading and understanding your audience requires a nimble style of leadership. This means taking time to truly appreciate your stakeholder's lens, motivation and objectives. The best leaders can pivot and learn to connect with many different leadership styles and personalities. The more rigid you are or the more you rely on one approach to influence others the less likely you will be seen as an enterprise leader.

A critical job of a senior leader is to create alignment across different business platforms. Just because you believe you have the perfect solution doesn't instantly get you traction.

So what does it take? If you pause to watch leaders who create healthy debate and ultimately create cohesion, they work very hard to influence others. Many conversations take place over a period of time. Rapport is not only built on being right or presenting the most cogent business plan. Rather it is about adapting to your audience and identifying with what each stakeholder needs to hear and understand in order to gain their trust.

Call it agility, call it versatility; you must pause and decide how to show up. Showing up requires a voice that speaks with conviction, energy and passion. You will then need to adjust or tweak that style in order to resonate with each and every leader you want to impact.

That's why there is no such thing as a singular best leadership style. Versatile leaders draw upon a multitude of styles depending upon their audience. The most successful leaders are masters, not just at crafting innovative business solutions, but also connect with their teams, peers and those senior to them in diverse ways.

Leaders who may be narrow in style or believe they can advance as subject matter experts run the risk of venturing only so far. Just think for a minute. Executives who are highly regarded in an organization and hold positions of influence successfully impact many people. If we assume these people are a cross section of not just levels of seniority, but a cross section of diverse individuals then to be a truly successful leader you must draw upon a diverse set of leadership skills to bring about change.

Executives who are indispensable demonstrate the ability to adapt to changing competitive pressures while simultaneously establishing a common platform or language. This common language generally means a hybrid model of solutioning.

Many parties do not initially show up with a desire to play in the sandbox. The goal is not to achieve consensus. There is a need, rather, to shift the majority to invest in the enterprise and to be less driven by individual platforms. Gifted leaders are at their very best when they achieve this level of synergy through leadership diversity.

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Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in executive coaching and talent management. She can be contacted at cwahler@cindywahler.com.