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April 28, 2016

Succeeding Beyond Success

Posted by Dr. Jayan Sen (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:48 PM

A couple of years ago, a series of experiments by scientists from University College London and Stony Brook University in New York, to find out if success indeed bred success produced some deliciously ambiguous results. Projects that met with success of some kind (funding, accolades, endorsement etc.) early on were more likely to succeed some more. But an increase in the quantum of early success didn't necessarily produce a similar increase in subsequent successes.

And so it is with people as well.  In my experience, a successful leader is almost always someone who succeeded as a manager, but not all successful managers end up as successful leaders. To make the cut, a manager needs to make a number of important shifts, some functional, some behavioral.  Let us take a quick look at some of them.

A manager, who for years plumbed the depths of a specific field, must now surface to take care of the entire gamut of business functions he leads. This can stretch his ability and character to the limit. Letting go of the previous role and responsibilities can be quite hard. At the same time, it is difficult for the seasoned tactician inside the manager to make way for the budding strategist- cum-leader. Knowing when to see the big picture and when to focus on the details, learning to tell an important business pattern from a noisy signal, and anticipating the reactions of key stakeholders to various planned actions, can really ease the transformation.

If you thought achieving these functional shifts was hard enough, making the behavioral shifts is worse. By definition, a successful leader comes with a track record of success. Unfortunately, the winning habit can be a liability in the transformation of manager to leader if it provokes competition rather than collaboration with subordinates, drives home a point beyond need or reason, or cracks down on any difference of opinion among team members.  Successful leaders know when to let go of an argument, even when they are in the right, and when to press on.  They listen - truly listen - to their colleagues even if they've heard the same thing a hundred times before. And they thank them for it. Successful leaders win, but without vanquishing their opponents.   Now that is the kind of success that breeds success. And it certainly something to ponder about.

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