Where are you currently in your career pathway? Are you in a new management / leadership role and figuring your way through it? Have you been a high performer accountable for your results only but are now having to manage others? Or perhaps you have been a specialist in your field but find yourself being a generalist as you manage others who are the specialists! Or you are now accountable for getting results through others who don’t even have a direct reporting line to you? These are fairly typical scenarios for an emerging leader with some great potential for development including learning about oneself and getting the best from others. The pathway from being the lone star performer to becoming an effective manager and leader is also littered with challenges which if missed can lead to career derailment.
Jim, (not his real name) who started his career in the IT industry learnt this lesson early as he realized that his technical skills were no longer enough to be the successful executive that he wanted to be. As he said, “I learnt pretty quickly that what made me successful so far wasn’t what was going to keep me there” and that “I needed to learn more about understanding myself and other people and what made them tick. I didn’t even realize this area existed before!”
Here are seven powerful learning insights for you to consider. Don’t short change your career path by overlooking these crucial skills, behaviour and attitude. As you read through each, rate yourself on a scale from 1 – 10, where 10 is excellent as to where you might be currently.
1) Time for reflection. Without time or an established process for quality reflection hand in hand with good self awareness, it would be very easy to get sucked into the never ending, day to day, operational demands of the business. Working in the business is not the same as working on the business. Jim realized that he was being paid “good money” and that his real job was much more than just getting the tasks and projects completed. He also needed to provide the very valuable strategic thoughts and insights on the business which not only shaped future direction but helped the business become more efficient, avoid risks and grow. He acknowledged that to do this he needed to make time for quality thinking; not leave it to chance.
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2) Listen to feedback – be open to, source and listen to feedback. Have you had a 360 degree lately? No doubt your strengths got identified but how did you react to any stated “negative” feedback? Watch the tendency to minimize, brush off or blame the other person for not really knowing or understanding you. More often than not, there is usually something useful that can be learnt from the feedback. At the very least, it can allude to the fact that your communication pattern needs to be different, that the message you intend for others to receive isn’t what they are getting and or that some refinement in your approach is needed for you to have greater impact and or effectiveness.
3) Courageous conversations – the easy tendency is to avoid this with the hope that the issue will go away. Jim learnt through experience that “what isn’t dealt with merely festers and gets bigger!” As a manager and leader when your people see that you are able to have the difficult conversations, their respect for you goes up. You are also role modeling and living fundamental values such as fairness, respect and integrity. Conversely team morale drops when they see their leader avoiding the hard conversations which need tackling. Clean up whatever is present as these issues are likely to be consciously or unconsciously consuming time, energy and brain space – all of which can be utilized for greater creativity instead.
4) Coach, develop and mentor your people – most people want to do a good job and are motivated by challenge, learning opportunities and wanting to fulfill their potential. Be conscious of your direct reports strengths utilizing these appropriately but also help them become aware and provide some coaching in managing their areas for development. Some of the best coaching conversations can happen close to an incident or event and sometimes can be less than 5 minutes! As a manager, look out for those “coaching moments” rather than wait for the more formal review months later.
5) Network – build effective relationships. The time to build your network isn’t when you need one. Think about not just how this person might be able to help you and what you can get from them but also how you may be able to help them. The law of karma – kindness and generosity has a good way of coming back to you, not necessarily from the same source but often from somewhere else. A lot of innovative ideas come from talking with people who may be doing business differently from you and may even be from a totally different industry.
6) Build a strong team with high morale. Develop a strong sense of shared purpose, vision and values that people are aligned with. It answers the question – what are we doing and why are we doing it? Have conversations that encourage your people to be clear about their vision and values and how this can be a two way relationship. As Jim said, “I would frequently have discussions on how we can help you and in turn what we would like from you.” The team members need to be clear about their role and how it fits into the bigger picture.
7) Keep a sense of balance, poise and perspective – as Jim said, “It would have been really easy for me to feel ‘top dog’ and let the position get to my head! But at the end of the day – it’s just a role and a job I enjoy but there is also more to life than this. Keeping healthy, having loving relationships with family and friends and being a good human being all add to the mix of a life well led!
For Jim, this also allowed him to be mentally flexible when things didn’t go according to plan, learn from it and move on. As Jim put it “I do my best to put in and create the right input and then let the results be what they will be!” Rather than be reactive, having a calmer state of mind is vital for executive success and indeed life. The Centre for Creative Leadership research found that managers who remained successful ( and didn’t career derail) reflected the following characteristics – they maintained good composure under stress, handled mistakes with poise, were focused problem-solvers, had greater diversity in their career paths and were able to get along with all kinds of people.
Jasbindar is a leadership coach and speaker who helps executives harness the best of themselves and their teams.