March 29


Defy Conventional Leadership Wisdom to Achieve Breakthrough Performance

By Sara Canaday

March 29, 2019

leadership, leadership behaviors, leadership characteristics, leadership definition, leadership development, leadership qualities, leadership skills, leadership style, leadership styles, leadership traits, professional development

Leadership is experiencing a metamorphosis today.

Its tried-and-true competencies are being tested (and sometimes even crushed) in our chaotic, always-on, hyper-connected, and competitive world. Conventional wisdom simply doesn’t have the same impact in the context of this new business environment.

In writing a new book called, Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance, I highlight a bold segment of leaders who were willing to make completely unexpected business moves with extraordinary results. All of these modern leaders had one thing in common: They refuse to allow the conventional thinking and practices that were pivotal in their past success to become the chains that hold them down in the future.

Their strategic choices were oddly counter-intuitive, undeniably successful, and downright fascinating. Here are six behaviors that break the mold.

1. Shaking off the age-old bias for action and perfecting the use of the strategic pause.

Successful leaders in the modern era seem to have adopted a new habit. Instead of making action the default for every challenge, these leaders are pairing that alternative with an opposite response. It’s not about replacing action, which we know is a necessary leadership ingredient. We still need to reach our goals, meet deadlines, and produce results. This is different.

They think of it as developing a companion habit that celebrates being rather than doing. It involves a strategic pause. A mental time-out. Space for their brains to percolate. Whatever we call it, this new habit requires consistently taking some time away from the chaos of business to let ourselves think.

2. Escaping from the prison of their own perspectives and passionately seeking out cognitive diversity.

Modern leaders know that their own decision-making doesn’t come from a mentally neutral position, so they push themselves to uncover other angles. Not a polite, obligatory surveying of the crowd to reach consensus, but a mold-breaking, eyebrow-raising exploration to prove themselves WRONG.

These leaders aren’t just finding success through an openness to new ideas; they passionately seek them out. They value cognitive diversity and invite team members to challenge them with radical alternatives. They let go of the need to validate their own perspectives, and they focus all of their energy on finding the best solution to meet shared goals. No matter where those solutions might originate.

3. Ditching the need to let hard data drive every decision and welcoming the insights of soft intelligence.

Trailblazing leaders today have recognized the tendency to be held hostage by information overload. Even though it feels unnatural, they give themselves permission to break free from their dependence on data. Do they still value the facts? Definitely. They just work to gain a broader context about its meaning. They’re willing to be informed by data but not ruled by it.

Leaders who are open to the idea of Whole Data—a more comprehensive view of the facts— stretch beyond the usual quantitative boundaries to incorporate intangible elements. They better serve their teams and their customers by paying attention to stories and narratives, emotions and attitudes, worries and complaints, risks and vulnerabilities. They search for the qualitative information that paints a more vivid picture.

4. Dropping their dependence on the usual routine and letting go of outdated tasks and deliverables.

Today’s forward-thinking leaders have realized that everything consuming their time must earn the right to be on their to-do lists. To establish that competition, they have adopted a new approach that defies their normal logic.

Most leaders have a competitive streak that pushes them to take on more rather than do less, but they are seeing the wisdom in that concept. Narrowing their focus to expand their perspectives. Minimizing their actions to maximize performance. Doing less to achieve more. Through the ingenuity of letting go, they are finding abundant success.

5. Defeating the drag on their communication and creating positive experiences that expand their influence.

Modern leaders embrace the idea of disrupting their typical approach to communication. They start in reverse. Instead of trying to determine what information needs to go out, they concentrate on the end result. What impact do they want to make? What are the challenges and perspectives of their audience members? What experience would they like to create?

With that in mind, they peel away all the layers of complexity that have been clogging up their communication and get down to messages that are authentic and engaging. They present them in novel ways. They aren’t afraid to open a window into their motives and rationale. And they create a meaningful, compelling experience that communicates in a more powerful way.

6. Committing to metaphorically resigning their roles as experts and approaching tasks with the spirit of a beginner.

Modern leaders are accelerating their careers by breaking free from the expert trap. They no longer allow themselves to remain captives of their expertise. They are finding the courage to change the tired, old narrative with a new attitude, some genuine vulnerability, and the never-ending desire to learn.

Success for these leaders means deliberately putting themselves in positions to humbly learn and grow. Every single day. They have learned to value questions just as much as the answers. And, perhaps more importantly, they work hard to ask the right questions—many of which start with, “What if…?”

While these exciting new principles are remarkably effective, the most compelling thing about them is the way they are applied. It’s a selective process. Not a simple swap of out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new. There’s a firm acknowledgement that the old rules aren’t completely obsolete. The most successful leaders have a knack for knowing when to stick with the traditional approaches and when to break away. They’ve adopted a new brand of wisdom, and they know when to use it.

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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