On Leadership Passages

I recently finished reading Leadership Passages – The Personal and Professional Transitions that Make or Break a Leader by David L. Dotlich, James L. Noel and Norman Walker.

As best summarized by the authors: “We have selected thirteen passages to describe in this book…we have chosen the thirteen that senior leaders mention most often and describe as particularly compelling or intense. If you work ling enough, you will experience many of these passages, perhaps all of them. When you do, you will find them to be emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually intense. And they are passages because as the world indicates, they take you from one place to another you see the world and yourself differently after you’ve gone through the events and emotional states that define each passage…Our goal is to help you understand, learn from, and navigate the passages successfully. If you do, you will dramatically increase your leadership effectiveness. If you don’t, you’ll risk bypassing the most important leadership development experience you can face: your own life.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that summarize the main points:

1- “Although, everyone experiences adversity and diversity in unique ways, the general nature of these experiences can be predicted and prepared for. When you know the passages you will encounter, you’re better able to maximize their value as learning tools…they’re organized according to the four quadrants of the matrix: (1) diversity of work experiences, (2) work adversity, (3) diversity of life experiences, and (4) life adversity.”

2- “Ultimately, the way we use our skills, obtain results, or establish relationships is contingent on our internal awareness of who we are. If we’re blind to our weak spots, they’re bound to trip us up.”

3- “Without a failure or two along the way, leaders never have to move out of their comfort zones, adjust their identities, or develop their capacity for compassion…Failure, though, can also deepen you. It gives you a sense of your own fallibility and forces you to reassess your point of view.”

4- “Companies therefore need to be proactive in helping their new executives deal with this passage; the first thing they should do is counsel them on the implicit rules of the culture and how to maximize the impact of their entry and minimize the cultural upheaval…follow this five-step method to learn and grow as you move through the passage: 1) Identify the gap between the company’s intention and your experience…2) Focus on your boss and learn to read him accurately…3) Build a coalition that stretches throughout the organization…4) Diagnose the culture yourself…5) Create a time-focused vision of what you want to accomplish.”

5- “Challenges for First-Time leaders: 1) Losing an Identity…2) Seeing your Star Dim…3) Balancing People and Tasks. The Normality of Struggle: 1) Reflect and talk about the feedback your receive…2) Heed your instincts…3) Make the time to focus on people…4) Grasp the network of influence and politics…5) Don’t abuse your power. 6) Do the right thing, but don’t be convinced you always know what the right thing is.”

6- “The Role of Paradox in Business: 1) Value the unfamiliar…2) Display a hang-in-there mentality…3) Accept the paradoxical nature of work.”

7- “Four Dos in Dealing with Failure: 1) Examine your decisions that catalyzed the failure…2) Talk to your boss, a coach, or some other trusted adviser about this incident…3) Reflect on what you might do differently in the future…4) Summon the energy to persevere.”

8- “A bad boss or peer is a reverse role model – one you can use to guide yourself away from counterproductive actions and attitudes. To take advantage of these three learnings, we recommend the following steps: 1) Choose an interpersonal strategy to manage the relationship…2) Ask yourself what your reaction to a boss or peer says about you…3) Define your values.”

9- “How to Grow from Being Diminished: 1) Refuse to allow the event define you…2) Understand why it happened…3) Use your support network…4) Develop a “what next” strategy.”

10- “Learning More Than How To Keep Your Job (in an M&A): 1) Figure out new rules quickly and start playing by them…2) Remain a strong leader despite your sense of vulnerability…3) Transcend the politics while focusing on the mission…4) Maintain an open mind…5) Create a new network. Growing as a Company Changes: 1) Determine if you should remain with the new company… 2) Work at assessing and expressing how you feel about the merger or acquisition…3) Reconnect to the company…4) Keep the lines of communication open with your direct reports…5) Be patient.”

11- “How to Take Advantage of a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity (living in a different country or culture)…1) Adopt an adventurer’s mind-set…2) Learn first; teach second…3) Function effectively without knowing the rules or how to behave.”

12- “Finding a Meaningful Balance Between Work and Family…1) Let your values be your work-family guide. 2) Involve your partner early on in your decisions about work and family…3) Monitor your attitude towards success.”

13- “How to Manage Upheaval: 1) Reveal your vulnerabilities…2) Be authentic…3) Accept fate and move on.”

14- “Leadership Development Is About Experiences: 1) Stretch assignments 2) Education 3) Key Relationships 4) Outside activities 5) Coaching 6) Diverse experiences 7) Living abroad 8) Feedback 9) Selection and Staffing.”

15- “An Eight-Step Survive-And-Thrive Guide: 1) Learn Resilience…2) Accept Personal Responsibility…3) Reflect…4) Seek support from your partner, family, friends, and professionals…5) Develop and Use a Professional Network…6) Seek Refuge…7) Gain Perspective…8) Take Risks.”

16- “The thirteen predictable, intense passages can certainly be stressful, confusing, and emotionally volatile periods in your life. They are also the foundation with which you can become stronger, more humane, and more effective leader. With insight, reflection, and a strong dose of self-forgiveness, you can turn the experiences of your life and career into personal growth for yourself and for others.”


Omar Halabieh

Leadership Passages


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