The huge benefits of designing your own uneven playing field 

I want more than anything to see you succeed as a leader. The advice in these blogs is designed with that single aim in mind. Posts here are most often aimed at what you can do about you, in order that your leadership becomes increasingly effective. This approach is based on my fundamental belief that the best leaders are the most developed human beings, the most nuanced, the most sophisticated reflectors and active learners. 

This post is a little different.

Expert in your field

We need to recognise that you do not lead in a vacuum. You have to lead within a context. In coaching we refer to that context as the ‘field’. Acknowledging the existence of the field is something I only truly became aware of relatively late in my career. As a newbie to the workforce, I felt that with a positive intent and sufficient energy I could change the world. However, this approach of ignoring my ‘field’ was short-sighted on at least two fronts: 

        - it implied that both I and what I was trying to do, were somehow separate from the world that I was trying to impact
        - it meant that I didn’t understand the field as it was and therefore, could not effectively work out, how best to influence things.

Whilst it took me much longer to feel more related to the wider world - still a work in progress - it is the idea that the more you understand the field within which you are leading the more you will be able to impact it. Knowledge, in this aspect, really is power. And there is so much to learn! 

Field Glasses

Let me share a tool I use sometimes with leaders that helps them think through the context in which they are leading. The Leadership Field Analysis Tool is a simple graphic and one that you can apply at a range of depths, from relatively straightforward to highly integrated and complex. You can decide how best to use it based on what you need to achieve or a particular situation/challenge that you are facing. Think of it as a form of leadership periscope that allows you to scan your field to see what it relevant, search out areas you have not yet considered and people that you may need to influence. Let’s look briefly at each part of the Leadership Field Analysis Tool in turn. 


This entire blog post is largely dedicated to elements that are going to impact the ‘you’ at the centre of leadership, so we’ll skip fairly quickly on to other areas. 

Direct Team

The better you know your team the better able you are to influence and lead them. The more they trust you, see you care etc the more they will be willing to give of themselves and their discretionary effort. One of the most common changes that senior leaders make as a result of leadership coaching is to increase the time they spend with individual members of their team in order to know how people are doing and feeling at any given point. It allows for some subtle interventions to build motivation, quality assure work or to offer opportunities for mentoring. Looking after this part of the field within which you lead is key and yet too often overlooked. 

Wider staff

See this post on role modelling to see why ensuring that you are always ‘on’ as a leader is so vital. 

Horizontal of Peers

Some of your dearest friends may well come from your peers. Some of your most powerful nemeses too, of course! The point is that this group is key to your broader success. You will not be able to achieve everything that you want to alone. Some of your support will come from your team but a good deal of political currency will also need to come from your peer group. What are you doing to build and retain strong relationships here? How are your lending a hand to a peer who could do with some support? These and many more questions are worth asking yourself on a regular basis. Keep developing your credibility and supporters from within this group.

Vertical of Bosses

Your boss and all the bosses from there on up the organisation are part of the field within which you have to work. They are all likely to have their own agendas and areas of importance, make sure you know what these are. Ensure that you learn all you can about the style and relational and decision-making styles of these key players and adjust accordingly. If promotion and greater responsibility are important to you then you will need to be able to be keyed-in to how the individuals in this group operate. 

The Midfield

In the mid-field are your own ‘significant others’ who will place some direct or indirect pressure for you to lead and commit to work in certain ways that will impact what you do. Family commitments for example, are a real influencer of how lots of leaders choose to lead, for others it is not an issue but the most important factor is that you are clear about the changing situation around you and how it impacts your leadership. Also, in this mid-level of the field, are key players such as your customers, shareholders and those with regulatory impact on how you lead. Keep really close to the ever-changing needs of these groups and think about the impacts of these changes on the day to day work of your team. You will be both more efficient and more effective as a leader the better able you are to deliver to the needs and within the respective influences, of these important groups. 

Macro Field

This widest part of the field is where many new senior leaders struggle. Senior leaders are no longer required to respond to the changes at a societal level but to predict those changes (even to prompt them in some cases … think iPhone!). Keeping up to date with the future shape of your sector is a good start. Being well informed in terms of the very future of what work might look like is even better. Being an authority on all things ‘cutting edge’ keeps you best placed to adapt early and truly lead the way. 

By relating your work to the field in which you lead, you become significantly better informed, more relevant and you will add greater value to your organisation. You will become a true leader and authority because people will sense that you understand the landscape. Others will judge that your views and opinions are insightful and will help their business be at the leading edge. Understanding the playing field will keep it tilted firmly in your favour as a leader and that is incredibly powerful for your future and that of your business. 

At Performance Edge Partners we develop excellent leaders who can make manifest great leadership in order to help their organisation transform for the better. If you want to know more about our work please contact us here

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John Lewis
Little Hearts Matter