Transition Approach: certain versus confident

I remember a great NPR piece from the summer of 2009.  I was driving in traffic, my typical  commute. Eight miles in 55 minutes.   The discussion’s topic was leadership.  The reason it caught me was that it described leadership in two simple yet separate buckets; certain or confident.  It hit me because I think that every leader I have ever worked under would think of herself or himself as confident when in fact they were more often certain.  I wonder if this simple dichotomy works in transition as well? 

From memory the NPR piece presented the two approaches as follows.  Certain leadership is embodied in a person who knows the answer to the question but sends you on a search to confirm her/his thinking.  When time pressed this person may not even allow for an investigation loop…she knows the outcome that she seeks.   A confident leader is one who is willing to let you learn and also allow for you to change her/his thinking based upon your findings.

Ever met anyone who falls into either camp?

If I’m honest I’ve been visited by both profiles during my transition.  Is it possible to have characteristics of both?  I remember coaching my former boss, the CEO of a major S&P 500 company, on exactly that point.  He would toggle between the two characteristics pretty regularly.

He asked for feedback not long after I heard this piece on NPR.  I used the confident/certain framework to structure my remarks.  I recall saying, “if you’re not saying the words, ‘what is your recommendation,’ during every meeting you host…consider the meeting a failure.”  In my comments the ‘recommendation’ was a trigger to help him remember to stay rooted in the confident side of the world.  This trick would allow him to draw out the thinking and ideas of those who presented to him.   I know it stuck.  I read an interview he did with the New York Times recently.  I smiled because he referenced the trigger phrase I had given him.

From my viewpoint the confident approach in transition allows us to pursue experiments that bring us closer to understanding our genuine interests.    Herminia Ibarra in Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing your Career defined a series of experiments as the focal point of transition.   In our Summer Book Review #9, Ibarra debunks the view that career change is realized after many introspective moments and a good plan.   She encourages readers to envision many possible future selves and to test each to see how they might fit.

The reason I like Ibarra so much is that the tests or experiments can be crafted in a little space between working full-time and running a family or something much more.   You get to define the timescale and parameters.

So what about the certain side?  If any of you are long time readers of Novofemina you may remember that I committed to working on a process for women’s transition at our outset in April 2011.  The first draft is almost finished.   In drafting the process I’ve come to understand a series of filters that greatly influence the outcome of transition.   My guess is that each of these filters bring us closer to certain leadership styles in transition, sometimes more than we’d like.    These filters are things like:

  • Our financial role.  Are you a primary bread-winner?  Do you have dual responsibility as a bread-winner?  Or are you one of the few with total financial freedom?
  • Our biological maturity.   Are you in your child-bearing years?  Rooted in child rearing? Foregoing parenthood altogether?  Or beyond menopause?

Here is a practical example of these filters and the simple leadership framework.  A dear friend is a single parent of two teenage boys.  She’d love to pursue all sorts of dreams but her recent transition had a very certain outcome in mind…she needed to provide for her sons.  My hats off to her.  She quickly tucked into a job that achieves that outcome.  She is finding ways to experiment. Her time scale is over the course of many many years.

Here is the honest truth.   My self-judgment side has been kept in check a bit by this objective framework.    One day I am in-flight on a new opportunity only to be reminded of a series of filters that keep me rooted in a certain outcome.   Thanks to this framework I remain confident — in more ways than one.

**Please note, I’ve looked through NPR’s archives for reference to the story quoted above.  As yet I’ve been unsuccessful. I will continue to search.

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