The Six Degrees of Leadership

01.25.21

Leadership U

TO LEAD people from one place to another in good times and in challenging ones requires a framework like the one presented in Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison’s concise book, Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve.

The framework is called, The Six Degrees of Leadership. These six degrees are mastered separately but work together in practice.

Degree #1: Anticipate

anticipateTo anticipate, you need to see what lies ahead based on a firm grasp of where you are today. There are four qualifiers that you must possess. “Without addressing each one, you won’t be able to predict unseen roadblocks or know when and how to brake, then accelerate out of the crisis curve.” They are: Embrace Humility, Be Self-Aware, Avoid Complacency, and Know That Others See You as A Function. (By function, he means that people will see your title and not tell you what you need to hear.)

Anticipating is 90% bottom-up and only 10% top-down. To anticipate, you need to make the hierarchy invisible. Take a total inventory across the organization as you listen for what people are thinking, feeling, fearing, and experiencing.

Burnison says no matter the climate, the question is always, “What does this mean going forward?”

Degree #2: Navigate

navigateNavigating is course-correcting in real-time. Together, navigation and anticipation help to keep the organization on an even keel. Without losing sight of the ultimate goal, we need to focus on the present and make adjustments as necessary. “Navigating is determining both direction and velocity.” Burnison says, “Plan a little, think a lot, decide always.”

Impatience doesn’t get the job done. It inspires more fear than high performance, which can override critical thinking. Anybody who has gone into a skid on black ice can relate: your instinct is to slam on the brakes and jerk the wheel in the opposite direction. It takes a clear had to do the opposite—the counterintuitive—of steering into the skid to regain control.

Degree #3: Communicate

communicateConstantly connect with others through the power of storytelling. As a leader, remember you are the message. It’s not just what you say but how you say it. In a crisis, especially, people need to know the facts rather than relying on their imagination.

When there is trust in what you say, there will be belief in what you do. That starts with modeling a “say/do” ratio of one-to-one. You do what you say and say what you mean. When you’re viewed as an authentic leader, people will not only trust your words and actions, they will also mirror what you say and do.

Degree #4: Listen

listenLeaders need to listen to and for what they don’t want to hear. And that means making it safe for people at all levels to say what is on their mind. “Information, insights, and marketing intelligence must bubble up, not cascade down.”

What often can hold people back from giving honest feedback is the lack of perceived economic independence. Those over us control our resources. “Economic stability is the ultimate truth serum, and leaders need to recognize that.”

As you listen, you need to distinguish between the urgent and the important. When a crisis hits, though, everything blurs as events and their implications constantly change. What’s important often becomes urgent, and the urgent becomes critical. You must delegate others to lead around a common purpose.

Degree #5: Learn

learnAnticipation, navigation, communication, and listening all form the basis of what you learn. To have learning agility is to acknowledge what you don’t know. To help find clarity to your situation, find a close comparison. “By running the ‘unknown’ of what you’re currently facing against the ‘known’ of previous crises, you gain perspective. You identify patterns to connect the dots.” A learning culture is built on curiosity. Get uncomfortable.

The distance between your company and its competitors is not absolute; it’s relative. If you want to transform your organization, you must grow your organization through learning.

Degree #6: Lead

leadAll of the degrees come together in the final degree: lead. Meet people where they are first. “Acknowledging fears must come first, before collective genius can ‘bubble up,’ instead of information just cascading down.” Help people see the win. “When they can see more, they can be more.

In a world where so much has be reimagined, nobody has all the answers. This is not a time for individual heroism. It’s all about the team—and you need talented people around you.

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