The Next Stage

Want to ascend to a true leadership role? Be prepared to let go of what you're good at.

Indeed, “most people tend to rate themselves higher than they actually are,” says Sweetman. That’s why although self-assessment is a critical first step, feedback from colleagues and superiors can provide a more complete picture. Finkelstein says executive coaches can also play a key role for executives looking to assess their leadership abilities. “An adviser from the outside who has no baggage, if he’s any good, is not going to be afraid to tell you the hard facts that others might not tell you,” he says.

Once you know where you stand, you should enlist the help of your boss and colleagues, letting them know that you are trying to broaden your leadership abilities and need their help. “A classic mistake by a stage-two person is if someone else can’t do a job, he will just take it back,” says Sweetman. “Instead, he should really be letting go and showing someone else how to do it.” A supportive colleague or boss can point out when you slide into such recidivist behavior.

Sometimes, being an expert in a particular field can typecast you in a stage-two role. For example, you might find yourself being swamped with complex revenue-recognition analyses to perform, thus getting few opportunities to work on cross-departmental projects. “You need to broaden your range, find out what people are doing in other departments, and let go of some things so that you can take on new things,” says Sweetman. Such a simple act as leaving the office for lunch with colleagues can help an expert break out of a routine and begin networking.

A Matter of Trust
This shift in mind-set — letting go of the very habits that have helped drive a successful career — can prove challenging, but it is critical to becoming a more effective leader. “You hear so much about how important it is to find your strengths, but at some point, you need to walk away from certain strengths and develop new ones,” says Sweetman. “It is a huge identity shift.”

Moving from stage two to stage three involves shedding some day-to-day duties and working across departmental boundaries, teaching colleagues and co-workers, and looking to make a mark on the company as a whole rather than just doing the best possible job on the task at hand.

Progression to stage four involves yet another change in perspective, this time to look even more broadly at the business and how it fits into the competitive landscape. To reach this point, a CFO must rely heavily on his supporting cast, as there simply is not enough time in the day to both close the books and meet with outside stakeholders. “You’re putting the technical stuff behind you, and putting your faith in those who are handing you the balance sheet, trusting that they’ve got it right,” says Sweetman.

“At some point in any job, you can’t do it all yourself,” says Finkelstein. “But in order to delegate, you have to have tremendous confidence in the people around you. And that means spending the time to develop those people.” Thus, one of the most reliable differentiators between a merely good leader and a great one is the ability to develop strong teams, where debate is welcomed and junior staffers can have opportunities to exercise their own leadership skills.

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