Top Executive Habits to Help Get Ahead

New managers can take on too much when they accept every project request that comes their way. This can impact the performance of both the manager and the team, says a new report from Carmichael Fisher. Prioritizing tasks and making conscious, well-informed decisions about which tasks to focus on will be essential in 2021. Here’s why.

January 5, 2021 – Ask any leader about their experience in management and they’ll likely tell you it’s tough at the top, according to a new report by Carmichael Fisher. “Whether it’s mid-management or senior executive-level, being responsible for the success of a team isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination,” said CEO Justin Hobday, the report’s author.

For first-time managers, the step up in responsibility can be overwhelming. “Eager to prove themselves worthy of the title and salary, new managers can quickly find themselves drowning under a tidal wave of to-do’s; their brain soon becomes a messy desk with Post-its stuck left, right and center as they spread themselves too thinly across every request that has come their way,” said Mr. Hobday.

New managers or executives are often guilty of taking on too many new projects – and yet, their experience in business has already taught them that such behavior can be detrimental both to the performance of the individual and the team itself. “When a manager becomes overwhelmed, it naturally has a domino effect on those working around them; their ability to lead and motivate is overshadowed by their stress and frustration – before long, the business suffers from a lack of direction,” he added.

Push Back . . . and Prioritize

“The crux of the problem is that information is unlimited, but our ability to manage it is not,” Mr. Hobday said. “New challenges, issues and tasks can crop up from all corners, be it industry trends or internal problems. In actual fact it’s the ability to say no that can make the difference between a struggling manager and a successful leader. With this in mind, managers and executives must take back control of their time; they must prioritize their tasks and make conscious, well-informed decisions about which tasks deserve their full attention and which can wait.”

Mr. Hobday said that the most effective way to achieve this is by asking yourself certain key questions before accepting any new tasks: Is this something you can complete quickly? Will working on this new task impact other important commitments? How does this task compare in urgency and significance to those already on your radar? Is this something that can be delegated out to a member of the team and who else will need to be involved?

Justin Hobday serves as CEO of Carmichael Fisher having previously spent 15 years establishing, developing, and leading the executive search practice for a large, international recruitment business. Since then, he has seen the U.S. business grow across multiple locations, with a diverse team of international search professionals. His experience spans large swathes of the globe and covers multiple sectors. Mr. Hobday personally leads some of the firm’s most senior mandates and he also leads hand-picked teams on non-executive and advisory appointments.

“Asking these questions whenever new tasks arise will ensure you don’t just say yes for fear that saying no will reflect badly on you; taking the time to determine the demands of new projects will demonstrate to your team your ability to manage your time well rather than giving in to the pressure,” he said.

Accept You Aren’t Superhuman

“Ultimately, the key to success is to accept that you aren’t perfect,” said Mr. Hobday. “You may have what it takes to inspire a team to achieve great feats and you may have the ideal combination of passion, skill and talent, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for error. In fact, the more you play the role of the perfect leader, the more the cracks will start to show and your performance suffers.”

Related: Assessing Soft Skills to Land Your Next Top Hire

The Carmichael Fisher report says that the difference between mid-level managers who stagnate in their roles and those who continue to climb the organizational ladder is their ability to accept their vulnerabilities and use their flaws as a signpost of what other skills might be needed in the business. Numerous studies confirm that employees favor leaders who are authentic, but there is nothing authentic about keeping your stress bottled up and pretending to have everything under control.

See Failure as a Chance to Learn

In the immediate aftermath of a setback, it is easy to wallow in self-doubt, blame ourselves or worse, start pointing fingers. The report says that it’s clear that none of these actions will aid the team or you to get back on track: “While getting comfortable with your vulnerabilities and admitting to your flaws is essential to strong leadership, allowing the pity party to persist will only demonstrate to the workforce your inability to learn from mistakes and be resilient to failure; this is one party that needs to be crashed and fast.”

What Leadership Looked Like in 2020
Will we need more than just “tough people” to emerge from these tough times? Adam Pekarsky, founding partner of Pekarsky & Co., was recently struck by a Harvard Business Review study on the future of leadership and how we are developing leaders. “Here we are launching all of these ambitious initiatives, initiatives which, at the end the day, must be led by leaders, but the study basically said the way we are developing leaders is at least a generation behind from where we should be,” he said.

“Allowing ourselves to feel bad is part of the assessment process, but it can be detrimental if allowed to persist,” Mr. Hobday said. “It is important not to let negative emotions take over. Instead, take a look at what happened, identify errors in your approach and see this as an opportunity to learn.”

The report says that being open and honest about this with your team will only drive engagement and set a positive tone throughout the organization; it sends the message that it is okay to fail, that even leaders are human and can make mistakes – it’s how you react to setbacks that determines your success in the long-term. “This is what it means to have a growth mind-set – it is a positive outlook rooted in self-compassion which ultimately creates a greater, more authentic self,” Mr. Hobday said. “And that is what makes an effective leader who others will positively react and respond to.”

Learn the Art of Self-Compassion

“Instead of mercilessly criticizing yourself for your inadequacies or failures or hiding your stress with a stiff upper lip mentality, stop to consider how the stress is affecting you and what you can do to care for yourself at that moment,” the report said.

“Ultimately, things won’t always go the way you want them to,” said Mr. Hobday. “As the old adage goes, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry: Losses will occur, circumstances happen, mistakes are made. You can’t always be winning, but the sooner you accept this reality rather than fighting it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and inspire those around you.”

Related: Talent Acquisition Success Factors in the Age of COVID-19

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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