Are you in a new executive role or contemplating one? If so, this advice from Rich Bents might be very timely for you. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Bents this month and found that he has a wealth of wisdom to share. (My questions are noted in bold, with his answers below.)
Rich, you’ve been serving as an executive coach to quite a few of our new and emerging executive leaders in the last seven years. What do you see as the top two or three challenges that new executive leaders face in their roles?
A common challenge for those seeking executive positions in higher education is fiscal management, particularly fundraising. Delegation is often a challenge. The basic act of clearly assigning a task and accountability can be difficult for new executive leaders. Another challenge is creating a stimulating vision for an organization that fits comfortably into the vision for Minnesota State. It is easy to just articulate a vision, the difficult part is demonstrating how that vision fits into a larger context.
In your observation, are there any predictors of success for a new executive leader? What do successful leaders do?
The predictors of success I have found are emotional intelligence and the ability to create trust while exuding trust-worthiness. The first step is to ensure high self-trust. Then attend to the following questions: Are my intentions pure? Do I have high integrity? Do I have the necessary abilities to get the work done that is before me? Do I exhibit the appropriate behaviors? Am I engaging in collaborative ways? Do I get desired results? These six questions pretty well cover all trust issues. A breech of any one of them will always challenge a trust relationship.
What are some of the most common pitfalls for new executive leaders?
A common pitfall is not understanding or not identifying all of the stakeholders and attending to their needs. New executives often do not realize who all of their stakeholders might be. And even when all of the stakeholders are identified, new executives may not know what the stakeholders are expecting. The needs of the stakeholders may be very diverse and at times unexpected. Validating the various stakeholder needs is an important and rewarding exercise.
Another common pitfall is not identifying potential blind spots in their leadership style or in their values. Blind spots are just that –things that we do not see. When looking at leadership styles and personality preferences, blind spots can be exposed by looking at the opposing styles and types. Opposing values are more difficult to discern because executives dearly hold to their personal values and find it difficult to find and state an opposing value in positive terms. Usually what happens is a value is stated i.e., “Optimism” and we quickly say “Pessimism” is the opposing value. However an opposing value to “Optimism” may well be “Realism.” Understanding that other people will hold opposing values to our own gives the executive greater insight to their own values and behaviors.
What do you advise leaders to do to avoid those pitfalls?
Reflect to identify all stakeholders and articulate, then validate, their needs. It is important to engage stakeholders in discussions that answer the following questions: What is it they want? What is it they need? What is it they expect?
First clarify personal values. Then share your values with those close to you. And always live your values.
If there is one thing you could advise all leaders to do whether they are new in their role or not, what would it be?
Know your values and live them. Learn how to create trusting relationships. Be emotionally strong/well.
For executives, I always try to instill the full meaning of what Max De Pree once said: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant.”
Thanks for your willingness to share your wisdom, Rich!