The Nine Steps to Leadership Mastery: J-Curve Model

 “Leadership is a journey … regardless of where you start it, becoming a master of leadership is within your grasp.”

J-Curve Nine Elements of Leadership Mastery

Nine Steps

1: Set Direction

2: Build A Cadre of People

3: Create Key Processes

4: Steward Structure

5: Nurture Behaviors

6: Conversation

7: Provide Support

8: Set Boundaries

9: Space to Deliver


Element 1: Set Direction

How many of us have worked in an organization where it seemed no one was at the helm? Were we unsure of our unit’s mission or how it fit in with the organization’s mission? Did we understand what the organization was trying to accomplish? In these settings we feel like we are floundering and have trouble seeing our purpose. Setting direction for people and organizations is the highest priority for leaders because it meets a basic human need to have purpose and to be on a journey. The critical points in setting direction include: the act of asking questions of ourselves and others to open the door for an evolving reality; respecting one’s intuition because it tends to be correct more often than chance would predict; and assimilating one’s own observations with those of others in order to have a clear picture of the organization’s internal and external environments. A direction becomes deliverable when risks are identified and managed, and objectives are realistic relative to the organization’s capacity. A leader’s messages bring a direction to life and animates it so people can see it, hear it, and feel it. This element provides the tools necessary for the leader to set a clear direction and to get each and every member of their team on a fulfilling journey.

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Element 2: Build A Cadre of People

Leaders are critical for maximizing the human capital of the organization. One of their primary tasks is to build and nurture the team. They recognize the importance of diversity in thoughts and perspectives and they realize that the only way to understand others is to first understand oneself. Leaders nurture high-performing teams into existence through conversations. They never ignore a conflict. Leaders realize that not confronting an issue will cause it to spread and perpetuate. This element addresses the critical skills involved in developing oneself, others, and the team, and in promoting the organization’s success.

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Element 3: Create Key Processes

Most organizations recognize the importance of performance management yet do a lousy job of managing the process. A well-designed performance management system will maximize the potential of an organization and minimize interferences that get in the way of delivery. Reward systems must align behaviors within an organization while nurturing an environment of support that enhances motivation. Leaders ensure that the behaviors that are desired are those rewarded. They understand the nuances that can derail a performance management system. They also understand that the selection of goals and metrics in performance management is absolutely critical because they ultimately shape the identity, purpose, and long-term viability of the organization. This element takes the leader through the steps required to establish goals and metrics, as well as the strategies for developing the vital performance monitoring relationships between leaders and employees.

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Element 4: Steward Structure

We typically think of organization structure as a description of who does what and who reports to whom. Organization structure is much more than a formal system of internal tasks and reporting relationships — something that shows up on intranet sites and bulletin boards. Leaders understand that structure must be carefully matched to the organization’s purpose and environment. Structure also creates the links among authority, responsibility, and accountability. Structure influences behavior and shapes an organization’s culture over time, much like a skeleton gives shape to a body and allows movement. This element guides the leader in understanding how to judiciously use structure as an enabler of change, but more importantly how it can be aligned appropriately to nurture effective behavior and reporting relationships. Cautions are also provided about how to avoid misguided change.

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Element 5: Nurture Behaviors

Nothing a leader says or does is ignored. Leaders are always on stage whether they want to be or not. A leader’s behavior speaks louder than his or her voice. It is never neutral. It is contagious, can ignite passion, evoke trust, and inspire success. It can also promote incivility or unethical behavior if misguided and mismanaged. Leaders must manage their behavior — it is not a consequence of who they are — it is an input to what they can be. It demonstrates what they believe and value. Three vital components of leadership — integrity, courage and intolerance — are discussed in this element. How they are developed, demonstrated and practiced is discussed. The role of emotional intelligence and how it is developed is also highlighted. As individuals progress in their careers the technical skills that made them stand out initially become less significant and are replaced by a need for critical leadership behaviors. As will be explained, developing these behavioral patterns is less about innate ability and more about being true to yourself, having a growth mindset, focusing, and exercising choice. And the importance of practicing cannot be ignored.

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Element 6: Conversation

Everything that happens in an organization happens as a result of conversations. These conversations are often spent dwelling on the past or focusing on our immediate environment. A leader’s life must extend the focus of conversations into the future. Clearly, lessons from the past cannot be ignored, but they must only be used as fuel for what is important, namely the future. Leaders are accessible through conversations. Conversations within an organization turn it into a viable and living network of people, with the highest level of teamwork enabled by future-oriented conversations. Becoming aware of self-narratives — those conversations going on in our own heads — is a powerful way for leaders to emerge from the past and to see new possibilities for others and the organization. Leaders launch conversations into possibilities through their language, and by being self-observers of labels and truths. They consciously control their listening by suspending judgments and not being blinded by their image of themselves. This element will take you through the intricacies of many types of conversations and how to use them to guide yourself, others, and the organization into a successful future.

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Element 7: Provide Support

Anyone who has been in the workforce for some time can likely remember a situation when they did not feel they had their boss’s support. It may not have been an obvious lack of support, but the “feeling” just wasn’t there. Support is a process that starts with a conversation. These conversations can be the beginning of a genuine relationship that ultimately will develop into a mutually supportive process. Leaders realize that their mental and emotional proximity to another person will impact that person’s perceptions of support and, as a result, their development potential. Opportunities emerge for employees when leaders nurture relationships with them. Leaders and their support are the agents of employee learning and development, which are the building blocks of organizational success. The leader’s belief in an employee’s success is also a powerful motivator. This element will take the reader through the process of developing and nurturing supportive relationships and the importance of integrity and sincerity in that process.

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Element 8: Set Boundaries

Boundaries define right and wrong — without them individuals lose their way and organizational anxiety ensues. This can create confusion, conflicts, paralysis, and cannibalization of energy. Leaders set clear license-to-operate policies and manage these proactively rather than in damage control when a crisis occurs. Employee welfare is paramount for leaders; they are mindful of the messages sent to the organization through their own behavior. It is a leader’s job to get all employees into positions where they can continuously learn and this requires inclusion — the state where each employee feels valued, respected and supported. Readers of this element will understand how to implement learning loops to ensure inclusion and to promote employee welfare. To the extent possible every aspect of an employee’s job should be an opportunity to learn. In this way every employee is high potential, and not just a chosen few.

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Element 9: Space to Deliver

The final step in a leader’s journey is often the most elusive — give employees space by stepping back and letting them deliver. The objective is to step back, but not step away. Leaders shift their focus from the work of delivery onto the work of people. What leaders do to achieve their own mastery, they must nurture in the people around them. Their ongoing effort is focused on staying in the future domain, interrogating reality, managing behavior, having conversations, monitoring performance, and providing support to people and the organization.

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