The Four Phases of Leadership

The Four Phases of Leadership

Sri Shivananda, SVP and CTO, PayPal

They anchor on critical factors such as effectiveness, scalability, resilience and transformation

I have benefitted significantly in my career from people who have had more confidence in me than I sometimes had in myself. I have also received help from people who have given me very direct feedback on where I may be undermining myself — or blocking myself from growth — and those who have pointed out the blind spots and development that I needed to pursue.

These lessons have helped me create a framework that has helped me chart my course and as well as assess and help leaders, both those leading teams and individual contributors: the four phases of leadership.

Phase one is a phase of effectiveness. This is where skill, execution, and basic management abilities, all play a role and a leader gets to a place where they are effective at what they do. Effectiveness earns one a badge on executing well and delivering value outcomes. This is table stakes and a foundation for one’s career campaign, but to grow as a leader, you must move beyond mastering your job effectively to scaling as a leader.

Phase two is about scalability, where a person moves from leading a team of 5 to 25 to 50 to 500 to 5000. Each one of these positions is a different competency set, and a different behaviour set. Just like in technology, there is scaling in leadership that is involved and that journey requires you to improve your capabilities in communication, time management, delegation, empowerment, change management, conflict management and crisis management.

This is also the time where you are probably first introduced to concepts beyond your main function: you will be running a portfolio, there are administrative actions you need to take, you need to gain understanding around your team’s financials, and define your strategy.

People who are ambitious tend to scale faster than they realise. If you are not careful, you could be a victim of the ‘Peter Principle’ — we tend to rise to our level of incompetence. This is the reason all of us need to continuously learn and develop every day and cultivate our potential.

Resilience and transformation

In phase three, the journey turns inward. This is the phase of resilience, where you start to challenge yourself with doubt: “Am I ready for this? What is happening to me on the inside? Why am I feeling this way? Why am I feeling criticised? Why am I feeling sidelined?” There are so many things that go on emotionally when you shift from focusing outward to focusing inward to make a better you. This is commonly referred to as Impostor Syndrome.

At a certain level, leadership is about what you do, but it also about what you become. You stay true to your core values system and you grow as a person. You become more self-aware, you are more aware of your surroundings, you conquer your emotions, you master mindfulness, you know what makes you thrive, and you form a personal criterion of success — there is a sense of calm you develop without losing passion or energy. If you pass these three phases, you get to the last one: the phase of transformation.

In phase four, the phase of transformation, you become a leader that transcends your title and role. You have a followership that is well beyond your span of control. You develop a repeatable playbook for success. You inspire. You create lasting transformations in culture and organisations that endure beyond your tenure. You are someone people seek out as a coach for help in becoming a great leader themselves. You leave a legacy. The phase of transformation does not only happen in large companies, it can happen in small spans of influence in communities as well.

As I look to grow leaders in my organisation, I assess people across this spectrum of four phases and then I measure them based on the matrix of intent and capability:

  • High intent, high capability: I need to recognise them
  • Low intent and high capability: I need to inspire them
  • Low capability and high intent: I need to train them
  • Low intent and low capability: I need to manage them out as fast as I can

Whether you are building a team of 5 or 5,000, you can use these four phases to transform the development of your leadership pipeline to produce sustainable, empowered, high-performance organisations.

First published in The Hindu BusinessLine:

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