Is there a limit on the value and impact we can create as leaders? Is our success evidence that there is no need, or room, to get better? Or can we go to another level of contribution?

Whatever our success, we can always take our leadership to another level of creating value, taking care of bigger concerns in the world, making bigger promises, or helping more people create their future. That is if we have the right context. Our possibilities are shaped by our context – how we see our world and the practices we have for action in it.

Leadership Starts with Care

For the sake of what do you lead or aspire to lead others? This is the context of care.

Depending on our context the pursuit of our next-level can enrich our lives, or it can burn us out. Our impact can be positive, but also negative. How we go forward on our leadership journey is important. Even more important is “why” we are on our journey. For the sake of what do you lead or aspire to lead others? This question is crucial for setting the power of your context.

We must remember that our leadership journey is also our life journey. Our leadership affects many other people, so what life with others do we aspire to create? If our leadership ambition is only for ourselves, for example, as a vision of achieving a position or level of success in our careers, then it creates no reason for others to follow.

To be a leader is to take care of the cares we share with others. To be the director, decision-maker, expert, or commander does not make you a leader.

To be a leader is to have followers – followers who commit to realizing a shared future with you.

The fundamental questions of leadership are:

  • What do you care about?
  • What do others care about?
  • What offers do you make to take care of the cares you share with others?

Going to our next level of leadership may require that we visit, or revisit, these questions to orient ourselves going to our future. After all, who is going to follow someone who is unclear about what future they are committing to, why they care, or why we should care?

Our leadership journey requires us to lead ourselves first.

By leading ourselves first helps to clarify what we are committing to take care of in our life and work. What is worth dedicating ourselves to? Leadership is fundamentally about becoming who we are, and who we were meant to be – not becoming the leader that someone else tells us we should be.

Leadership Purpose Leads to Commitment

Once we feel the enlivening fire of our care and purpose, we can better choose our mission and actions in the world. The key act is the act of commitment. What are you committed to?

Then we face the question and challenge of how to elevate our contribution and empower our actions. How do we contribute? It is not just a question of what will we do. It is also a question of who we will become in the process – what will we learn? And how will we learn?

Learning is a big barrier and blindspot in our culture. Our schools teach us that learning is understanding. But results from a performance art like leadership requires skills in action. And these are only developed through practice.

Blindness to the need to attend to your practices produces a barrier to your growth.

We must see that our journey is a journey of practice, the practice of mastering our craft, whatever it may be. If we don’t realize that attention to what we practice is key and unavoidable then we get trapped in working hard but not growing.

Successful practice eventually moves us to our next limitation. We bump up against the limits of our current context, and we may not see this.

When we hit the wall, we have hit the blind spots of our current context.

We are not seeing what we need to see, not doing what works for our bigger purpose. Sometimes, what limits us is a lack of imagination where we aren’t unfolding a bigger, more meaningful future, or we have become complacent with our success. These are examples of the context we operating in.

  • Is our context big enough for our purpose?
  • Does our context even show us the right skills to practice?

Doing more in the old framework produces more of the old results. To go from being blind to having new eyes we need to not only learn but to change the eyes we learn with. We need to shift the context we live in. The context for our learning is fundamental to opening or closing our opportunities for growth.

New Levels of Career Require New Levels of Context

One example of going to the next level of context is the transition from performer to manager. This is not just a shift in jobs, it’s a shift in the context of the role. It’s a shift in the conversations that are needed and in the scale of promises being made. The super-performer focuses on what they know and can do, and are constantly elevating their ability to perform. Learning in this context tends to be about knowing more to do more – but not about changing context. But the context for a manager is to coordinate conversations and actions to enable a team to be its best, not to direct traffic from being the expert. Becoming a manager requires learning a new context.

Here are examples of key context transitions of that leaders encounter going to their next level of contribution, going from:

  • Performer to Manager – from knowing and doing more, to coordinating actions in conversations that enlist people’s shared care and commitment
  • Manager to Executive – from excellence in execution to specifying what to be excellent at – defining new criteria for value and action
  • Executive to Leader – creating a bigger context for the game being played, the strategy to play by, and what is taken care of in winning
  • Leader to History Maker – shifting the background common sense of a community to shift what is valued, what is cared about and committed to, and the context for taking effective action – how we take care of our world and future together.

Each of these transitions is a place of learning. If we take on shifting our context at each transition, then there is no limit to the value we can ultimately create.

Each of these transitions is a place of learning. If we take on shifting our context at each transition, then there is no limit to the value we can ultimately create.

Shifting context is our deepest learning.

Success at these transitions requires the deeper level of context of effective learning itself. Learning to produce new levels of actions and results through practice. It’s the learning that shifts us as observers and actors in the world. In learning to embody new context, we go from skilled actors in our old patterns to choosing new and more powerful frames that shift our awareness, attention, action, and impact. Through appropriate practice and context, the medical student becomes a healer. Through appropriate practice, we can take ourselves to our next level of leadership.

We just need to continue on our path of learning and leadership and be aware that each horizon that we achieve opens a new one, one that may call for a new context for the next phase of the journey. A new context that enables a new level of taking care of what we care about with others.

To continue, read “Take Your Leadership to the Next Level – Part 2” HERE.

To listen to the audio recording of this conference call about Taking Your Leadership to the Next Level, CLICK HERE.