Leaders in Transition: A Precarious Place

06/05/2015 04:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016


Adam was anxious about a pivotal strategic decision. "Why does my gut tell me that I should go in the opposite direction of what my most trusted Board member advises? This adviser has been a mega-successful, serial entrepreneur and insists on this direction. Even the data backs him up. Still, it just doesn't feel right. Do I trust him as I always have?"

As I discuss with Adam the unique context of his business and this decision, I'm also aware that he is in a precarious place in his role as a leader. His uneasy feelings about conflicting with his Adviser are not passing. His intuition is telling him not to go along as he usually does.

"For some reason, I can't read the signals of this situation. I'm usually confident in my decisions but right now, I'm conflicted. What's happening? What's the right answer?"

Adam is transforming toward an expanded understanding and experience of himself, which will change his leadership, his organization and his potential for success.

Organizations cannot successfully expand without the consciousness of the leader expanding with it.

At expansion or strategic inflection points, leaders are faced with decisions that require more of them: more than listening and going along with good counsel, and more than following solid data. Both the leader and the company are moving to a new and unfamiliar place. The "I don't know what I don't know" is a painful point in the process because it is hard to know who to trust.

As Adam decided to grow his traditionally conservative company from a $30 million to a $60 million business, he had to make decisions about product and service offerings that were less familiar and that required forging new kinds of partnerships. He had to consider infrastructure changes that meant internal relationships would be shifted, in some cases due to job losses. While Adam felt ready to take more risk, he was moving in a direction that did not feel comfortable or "organizationally safe" to his trusted Adviser.

This is less a conflict of opinion or strategic choice than it is a soul level decision. Is Adam ready to "live into" his power and authority through self-trust? Is he ready to stand by his intuition - without clear evidence that this direction is the right one? Is he willing to pay the price of potentially harming or even ending a valued relationship that has been both helpful and profitable to-date?

If Adam conforms to his Adviser's counsel and stays in "known" territory, his Board relationships would be safer and the data would support his direction. However, this path uses outer-directed decision making and the approval of powerful players as an organizing principle for business growth. It sends the signal that the Adviser is still "bigger and more powerful" than the leader. Genuine relationship moves into "obligation" and offers less possibility for authentic organizational growth.

Advisers are always helpful - sometimes in sorting through strategic decisions, and sometimes sorting through whether you have outgrown your mentor.

Adam is currently working through a conscious leadership exercise of how to honor his relationship to his trusted adviser and Board, while delivering the message that his/their counsel will not be followed.

He is taking the ultimate risk of staying true to himself, which will undoubtedly prepare him for the next level of leadership that his organization requires to succeed.