The Uncharted Waters of Leadership
Anna’s principal concern was mastering the subtleties of leadership as a first-time CEO. Having researched the role and listened to stories from other business leaders, she was aware that she would need to engage in difficult conversations, handle potentially volatile situations, and deal with considerable stress.
“Anna didn’t need help with the strategy of the business, so much”, Ivan clarified, “but she hadn’t had a corporate upbringing, as it were, so she wanted to know how to handle potentially difficult situations, like performance appraisals, and ways of delegating effectively whilst maintaining accountability.”
To empower Anna with more confidence to tackle those challenging situations when they would inevitably arise, Ivan offered several strategies that he uses frequently with his coaching clients:
1. Consider your words carefully
“One of the first resources Ivan gave me was a list of words”, Anna recalled. “It was a presentation containing a few awkward scenarios a CEO might face with words and phrases you should lean into or avoid in each instance.” The idea behind this is to make sure you can quickly fall back on considered wording to articulate how you feel about certain situations without saying something flammable.
Calmness is crucial to finding the best solution to problematic circumstances, but as Ivan pointed out, “Situations like appraisals often contain a certain amount of frustration, and that can be reflected in the words used by the individuals involved.” Having an idea of the words you need to use in situations like this helps them to run a lot smoother and allows you to avoid undesirable outcomes.
2. Plan your approach to conversations in advance
“A lot of the time, it’s the anxiety associated with the difficulty of the conversation that leads us to use the wrong language”, Ivan offered. “So, it helps a lot to hear the words you’re planning to use out loud because, if the vocabulary feels right, you feel more confident of staying calm and getting a good outcome.”
This is something that will become easier with experience, but the first few times you encounter such situations as a CEO can be daunting. Planning what topics you want to touch on, and what words you plan to use to ensure calmness is maintained, are both brilliant ways of reducing apprehension and maximising the chances of a productive conversation.
3. Lean into your natural authority
“A major part of what I wanted help with was getting the balance right to uncover my own style”, Anna shared. “I didn’t want to be too forceful or too meek in effecting the right outcomes in the team.” This is a common issue for leaders of all teams, be it in business, sport, or elsewhere, and is something Ivan has helped many people overcome.
“Leaders are most effective when they’re leading from their natural authority”, he clarified. “But when we’re under stress, we tend to communicate in a manner that’s either too strong or too tentative. In the middle, however, is a big channel where we’re choiceful about the strength we bring to a situation; we are flexible, but if necessary, we can be firm.”
The key to staying within that middle channel is to remember that you are the CEO and the authority you have is implicit. Raising your voice or being overbearing and bossy, for instance, have no bearing on how much actual authority you have. It is always best, and always possible, to remain on the spectrum of calmness, dialling up towards firmness, and down towards a more understanding approach as necessary.
The Loneliest Job in the World
One of the founding principles of All Together was to help alleviate the solitude that so many CEOs and founders share. With so much pressure on their shoulders, it can be a weighty burden to bear, so being able to share that with someone else can be invaluable. Anna echoed this sentiment by emphasising just how useful her relationship with Ivan has been in terms of dealing with stress.
“It’s startling how useful it is being able to candidly acknowledge the scale of the problem you’re trying to address”, she divulged. “Just having someone there who understands what you’re going through – having performed the CEO role, themselves – saying, ‘Yeah, that is a lot’, takes away so much of the emotion and lets you see and problems more rationally.”
Six months into the partnership, both Anna and Ivan testify to its value and the positive impact it has had for Anna and Alchera. In Anna’s words, “Ivan has been an invaluable support in the last few months. Alchera is steadily growing its Annual Recurring Revenue in line with our targets, and with new team members coming on board to accelerate the sales and delivery process, the future looks promising.”
Ivan’s observations about Anna also reflect the effectiveness of the mentorship. “I’ve certainly noticed an increased calmness since our paths first crossed via All Together”, he acknowledged. “She’s so bright and at such a young age it’s a real privilege to help someone like her.”
Beyond addressing immediate challenges and fostering growth, this mentoring relationship stands as an emblem of ongoing collaboration and mutual respect. Anna and Ivan have the ambition to continue their partnership in the future, too, maintaining their fruitful dialogue beyond the five hours quoted in our service.
We would like to thank Anna and Ivan for providing us with such a fascinating insight into their relationship as mentor and mentee. If you would like to benefit from advice bespoke to you and your business from one of Britain’s leading CEOs, apply to All Together today for up to 5 hours of mentoring, pro bono.