Leadership and the Instinctual Biases: Preparing to Scale

Mario Sikora
Jan 23, 2020

Excerpted from the book “Instinctual Leadership: Working with the 27 Subtypes of the Awareness to Action Enneagram” by Mario Sikora with Maria Jose Munita. Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.

As we stated in the previous section, no one can be good at everything. We don’t expect our finance people to be as good at selling as our sales people, and we don’t expect our engineers to be PR experts.

The larger a company gets, the more specialized people become in their specific functions. The more expertise individuals have in their given domain, the more effective the company will be overall.

We have seen that the instinctual domains are reflected in various activities and organizational functions (the correlations of the Preserving domain to finance and operations, or Transmitting to sales, etc.). When it comes to leadership and the instinctual biases, there is another way of applying the instinctual bias framework that has been useful with our clients.

There are no easy answers to the question “What skills do I need to be an effective leader?” There are many skills a leaders should have, but the reality is that what works for a leader in one environment may not work everywhere, which is why so many leaders achieve great success at one company and fail when they move to another (or vice versa); different situations require different capabilities.

That said, there are some fundamental competencies that we have seen that separate those leaders who are able to continue to “scale” over their career—to take on ever-greater responsibility and organizational scope—and those who reach a plateau they are unable to get beyond. Those competencies are directly correlated to the three instinctual domains:

  1. Effective personal processes and structures (the Preserving domain),
  2. Developing talent in others and nurturing existing relationships (the Navigating domain), and
  3. Personal brand management and networking (the Transmitting domain)

Ongoing, methodical improvement in each of these areas allows a leader to accomplish more of the right things with the same amount of effort and time. It has been our experience that leaders who do not have the requisite amount of skill in each of these competencies eventually fail. “Requisite” is a key word here, meaning “the amount required.” How do we know the amount required? Though regular self-assessment and seeking feedback from trusted colleagues. There is no handbook on leadership that can tell you exactly what you need for any given situation—life, and leadership circumstances, are too complicated for that.

Feedback, self-assessment, and having a framework (or latticework of models) for the competencies you need to develop on your leadership journey are crucial for success. The “scaling competencies,” which are part of the broader Awareness to Action Leadership model, are a good place to start.

While it is beyond the scope of this book to go into great depth about these competencies, we will provide a brief introduction. We will also provide a list of useful resources at the end of this section that readers can refer to for guidance on how to improve in each of these areas.

1/Effective Personal Processes and Structure (the Preserving domain)

All the best leaders we have met are fanatical about process management. They know that their primary role is to ensure that things get done and they set an example of efficiency and effectiveness. They execute and drive execution throughout the organization.

The ability to do this relies on a number of skills, including:

  • Effective time management. Scalable leaders are in control of their time. They keep a calendar (or have someone keep it for them) and stick to it. They know that time is a non-renewable resource so they make good use of it, and they understand that being sloppy with their time creates ripples of inefficiency—the time others spend waiting for them as they scurry from one meeting to another is lost time.
  • Clearly defined goals and metrics. Scalable leaders are always working on the right thing because they have clearly defined goals and they prioritize their activities according to those goals.
  • Task management. Scalable leaders have systems in place for tracking and managing their “to-do” lists. They break projects into tasks and schedule the tasks accordingly, they delegate effectively, they keep track of what they owe to others and what others owe to them.
  • They systematize repetitive tasks. Scalable leaders establish routines for repeating tasks or obligations rather than treating such tasks as ad hoc A regular time at the gym, a consistent schedule for operations reviews and one-on-one meetings with subordinates, or a system for reviewing and responding to emails are all examples of systems that can be put into place.
  • They maintain their health and wellbeing. Scalable leaders know they are in it for the long run and they take care of their health by eating well, exercising, and ensuring effective rest, relaxation, and recreation.

2/Developing Talent and Nurturing Relationships (the Navigating domain)

Developing talent—You can’t do everything. Being a leader means you are leading others who are doing most of the doing. Your job is to give them direction and empower them to be successful. Your success is dependent on their success.

Every leader knows this intellectually but don’t how to put it into action. Most leaders got to where they are by being doers—people who executed their work faster and better than others, and they often figured out how to do so without a lot of guidance from others. Transitioning from doer to leader is neither easy nor natural, so most leaders need to make the effort to learn how to develop their subordinates. Leaders who want to scale need to have subordinates who can scale with them.

Nurturing Relationships—Again, you can’t do it all by yourself. Scalable leaders nurture their relationships so they are connected to the influencers in the organization. They understand who the informal gatekeepers and resources are, what levers in the organization need to be pulled and when, and the sensitivities to perception and organizational politics that dominate the company. They also learn to be of service to others, to be a “go-to” person who understands that someday they may need a favor in return and it is better to be owed to than to owe.

3/Personal Brand Management and Building Your Network (the Transmitting domain)

Personal Brand Management—Perhaps it shouldn’t, but perception matters. How, or whether, people see us can determine how far we rise. Scalable leaders know that others are evaluating the way they dress, the way they speak, their manners from the boardroom to the dinner table to interacting with front-line employees. Scalable leaders understand that if others aren’t aware of their accomplishments, they are like the proverbial tree falling in the woods. Thus, the scalable leader manages their personal brand effectively but not obnoxiously. They are not “that guy” who is always talking about how great they are, nor do they hide their accomplishments and keep them secret. The scalable leader makes sure that they look the part they are inhabiting and that people have an honest and accurate understanding of their skills and abilities. To do otherwise is simply to become an under-utilized resource in the company who could have accomplished more if only the bosses had known what they were capable of.

Building Your Network—The scalable leader knows that their scope is limited by their available resources. Having a broad network gives you access to resources and opportunities. A broad network makes it easier to add talented people to you team. It means that more opportunities come your way. It means that you know what is happening in the industry and will gain insights that can inspire creativity and innovation. It means you have more access to influencers who can promote you, your product, or your career. The scalable leader is always adding to their network and thinking of ways to use it.

Resources for Scaling in the Preserving Domain:

  • “Managing Oneself,” by Peter Drucker
  • “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker
  • “What Makes an Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker
  • “Getting Things Done” by David Allen
  • “High-Output Management,” by Andy Grove
  • “Measure What Matters,” by John Doerr

Resources for Scaling in the Navigating Domain:

  • “Developing Talent,” by Mario Sikora
  • “Becoming a Skillful Navigator” by Mario Sikora

(Both available as Kindle Singles at http://www.amazon.com/author/mariosikora or as a pdf download on the resources page at http://www.mariosikora.com.)

Resources for Scaling in the Transmitting Domain:

  • “No One Understands You and What to Do About It,” by Heidi Grant Halvorson
  • “Brand Aid” by Larry G. Linne and Patrick Sitkins
  • “The Financial Times Guide to Business Networking,” by Heather Townsend

Get your copy of “Instinctual Leadership” in paperback or ebook, or any of Mario’s other books at www.amazon.com/author/mariosikora

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