Category Archives: Career Development

Are You A Born Leader?

Are Leaders Born or Are They Made?

I recently had someone ask me if I believed that leaders could be created.  I actually was very surprised.  I thought everyone knew that leaders could be developed.  Haha.  Note to self:  EVERYONE doesn’t know anything.  Second note to self:  Just because you believe something, that doesn’t mean it is a fact to be known by everyone.  Third note to self:  Never, never, never forget that your “facts” aren’t everyone’s facts.

Born or Made, Other Things Are Involved

OK.  I’m done with my lectures to myself.  Let’s look at whether leaders can be developed.  First of all, I’ve spent a reasonable amount of my life teaching Leadership at the graduate level, and I’ve developed and implemented Executive Development programs.  I’ve WATCHED people grow leadership skills.  Were they born with nascent skills that became more dominant?  In other words, were they born leaders?  Maybe.  But they weren’t great leaders, and then when they were exposed to ideas, to new ways of thinking and interacting, when they practiced, they became better leaders.  In fact, frequently, they began to see themselves as leaders and began to consciously behave as leaders.

The Center for Creative Leadership, which does great research and training on leadership, recently asked C Suite leaders whether they believed that leaders are born or made.  Fifty eight percent of those asked believe, like me, that leaders are made.  Nineteen percent believe that they are born and twenty nine percent believe that it is both.  If leaders are born, then there isn’t much we can do to grow leaders.  However, if they are born with potential, then of course there are things that can be done to make them better leaders.

Let’s start with what creates a leader.  If a leader is born, then it is his/her personal characteristics and traits that makes him/her a leader.  Presumably these folks would show leadership capabilities at a very young age.  What is interesting about that, though, is that how children are judged as “leaders” is very different than how adults are judged as “leaders.”  I once participated in an effort to develop “leaders” at the middle school level.  We surveyed their teachers as to what characteristics demonstrated leadership and the results were eye-opening.  Most teachers thought that the best leaders in the class were those who behaved themselves, were quiet and did their work.  Imagine that being the criteria in an Executive Development program for a corporation.

I think most people would agree that these personal characteristics are a part of what makes a leader. The dispute is just about how much these characteristics matter.  The other things that contribute are leadership training and experiences.  The same Center for Creative Leadership  (CCL) Survey, asked both those who thought leaders  were born and those who thought leaders were grown how much these other factors played in leadership development.  Interestingly, both groups thought all played a role–they just varied in how much of a role.  Those who believed in the ‘born’ method thought that traits were  31%, learning  28%, and experiences were 38% of the development of leaders.  Those who believed in the ‘made’ method thought that traits were  20% , learning 34%, and experiences were 46% of the development of leaders.

The bottom line–whether leaders are ‘born’ or are ‘made,’ your own self development can have quite an impact on your leadership capabilities.

It’s Up to You

You can sit around and wait for your organization to “develop” you.  You can mourn the fact that you aren’t “one of the chosen high potentials” in your organization.  You can decide that you can’t afford an MBA or an Executive certificate.  OR you can get to work on developing yourself.  What do you know about leadership?  Have you read about Situational Leadership?  Have you read the Leadership Challenge? Do you know the theories of leadership? Do you understand power?  Do you know when to use which kind of power? What role does charisma have in leadership? What experiences can you add to your resume that will grow your leadership abilities?

Stay Tuned

This is the first of a series of posts focused on growing your leadership knowledge, practical knowledge, skills and confidence.

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Filed under Career Development, Derailment, Leadership

Are You A “Flat-Tire-HIPO?”

damaged flat tire

What Is A Flat-Tire-HIPO?

You know those people, those really, really talented people? Those people who REALLY get things done or those people who can spot the 2 numbers in a 20 page spreadsheet that have issues. Or those who are so incredibly charismatic or entrepreneurial or incredible presenters and can sell anything? Those people who are so special that everyone (even the ones who don’t like them) recognizes that they are HIPOs?   *A ‘HIPO’ is a high potential individual with significant ability and potential to move up the organization.* Well, it has been my experience that the most special, most talented, most capable of these HIPOs are flat tires. They are ‘round’ in all the ways that they are special, but they go ‘kathump’ as they hit that part of them, that non-round, non-perfect part of them that is flat. I know you’ve met these people—the guy who gets results . . . but leaves bodies; the person who is incredibly charismatic and people follow her anywhere . . . who can’t make a decision; the person who is charming and talks a perfect plan . . . who doesn’t actually deliver when promised. These are ‘flat-tire HIPOs.’

That Flat Tire Will Derail You

HIPOs are highly sought and cherished—as long as the organization benefits from the ways in which they are special. As long as their strength outweighs their cost. The higher up HIPOs go, however, the more likely that their deficit will begin to get in the way. The Center for Creative Leadership which does great research on Executive Development, Leadership and success factors for Executives, has identified several “derailers,” behaviors or traits that can ‘derail’ a career:

Failure to Change or Adapt During a Transition. Examples include:

  • Failure to adapt to a new boss
  • Over-dependence on a single skill and/or failure to acquire new skills
  • Inability to adapt to the demands of a new job, a new culture, or changes in the market

Problems with Interpersonal Relationships. Examples include being seen as:

  • Insensitive
  • Manipulative
  • Demanding
  • Authoritarian
  • Self-isolating
  • Aloof
  • Critical

Failure to Build and Lead a Team. Examples include:

  • Failing to staff effectively
  • Can’t manage subordinates
  • Poor leadership skills

Failure to Meet Business Objectives: Examples include:

  • Lack of follow-through
  • Too ambitious
  • Poor performance

None Of Those Apply to You, Right?

Riiiiiiiiight. Almost all of us . . . at least I’ve never met one of us it isn’t true of . . . have one or more of these. Especially HIPOs. People become HIPOs by being really good at stuff. When you’re really good at stuff, then you by definition are more focused on the stuff you’re good at than the stuff you’re not focused on. And you’re not as good, and maybe you’re pretty bad at, the stuff you’re not focused on. If you are a detail person, who really pays attention to the details and on getting things done, then it is highly likely that you’re aren’t as focused on the people side of things. You may be insensitive to those who don’t speak “detail.”

Yeah, I know, not you.

If you focus on getting results, you may be impatient. If you are ambitious, you may be TOO ambitions. There are so many combinations that are possible. And it is hard to see it in yourself. You need to listen to feedback. CLOSELY. It may be between the lines. When you are a HIPO, then the organization will appreciate you for as long as you aren’t hitting the “flat” part. That can be years. Eventually, though, your flat part will hit at the wrong time or with the wrong person and you will be out. UNLESS you start paying attention and learn to inflate those parts.

OK, I’ve take this metaphor far enough. What do you do?

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Filed under Career Development, Derailment, Executive Development, Feedback, Hi Po, Learning, Personal Change

So, You Want To Get Promoted. What Are You Doing About It?

People Who Do Their Job Don’t Get Promoted

performance level conceptual meter

Doing your job is not enough.  You were hired to do your job.  The fact that you do it–even that you do it well–is not enough to make you stand out.  If you don’t stand out, you don’t get promoted. This is a very important concept to “get.”  What are you doing to stand out?  When people across the organization (not just your unit) think of you, do they think you stand out?  Do they think of you as a “go-to” person who “gets it done?”  Do people outside your unit even think of you at all?

There are different cultural expectations within organizations.  “Follow the rules.” “Be a team player.” “Make your boss succeed.” “Get results.” What are the expectations in your organization?  Are you meeting them?  Are you exceeding them?  To get promoted, you must exceed them.  I actually don’t know an organization that doesn’t expect people–leaders–to get results.  Do you get results?  I’m not asking if you try hard.  Or if you work hard.  Or if you do what you are asked.  Do you get results?  Consistently?

Two Sides To Getting Promoted

There are two sides to getting promoted.  First, the need for someone to be in the position has to exist.  Second, you have to be obviously the best choice to fill the position. The first isn’t under your control (although you should always be hyper-aware of these opportunities).  The second is under your control.

  • Sometimes you can see opportunities coming.  Your boss is going to retire.  There is a major reorganization happening soon.  Someone is leaving. The company is growing.
  • Sometimes you know what you want the next step to be.  You may want to go to the next level in your organization. Or you may want to hop to another organization with a new kind of position.

You should have A PLAN for whatever opportunity you see and want.  What skills do you need to acquire.  Are you being obvious in getting those skills?  Are you seeking experiences that will grow those skills?  Do others in the organization know that you’re growing the skills?  It’s always important to remember that people don’t necessarily know that you are growing.  Sorry.  It isn’t obvious unless people are paying close attention.  You need to make it obvious.  How will you stand out so that people will immediately think of you when the opportunity opens?

Stand Out.

I used to sit in on conversations considering people to fill critical positions.  It was unusual when everyone in the group all knew the same people.  Most candidates had one advocate and maybe one other who had an opinion and the rest didn’t know the person.  So . . . the candidate that everyone knew really stood out, especially if all the opinions were glowing.  When you think about the potential next positions for you in your organization, think about who would participate in the decision.  Do they know you?  Do they think highly of you?  What can you do about that?One to Watch Marked Person in Organizational Chart

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Filed under Bosses, Brand Yourself, Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Get Promoted, Uncategorized, Unwritten Rules

Look At Your Organization Through New Eyes. Every Day.

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Get Out Your ‘Spidey-Sense’

Remember when you were new in your organization? Remember the things you noticed? Remember the things you thought? You noticed what worked and what didn’t seem to be working. You notice who had the power. You noticed who seemed to be moving up (and you probably had a clue as to why). You noticed who annoyed you and who you liked.

Then you settled in. And you started to forget. You got used to things. You became friends with people. Your own prejudices and stereotypes kicked in and overrode your initial impressions. And you went on autopilot.

So you are missing a lot of what is going on in the organization. You are missing the nuances and the undercurrents that can help prepare you for what is going on. Your “Spidey-sense” needs to be turned on at all times.

Here are some times to make sure you’ve got your NEW EYES open:

  • Every time a new executive joins the organization. What ripples are caused when new people join the organization? We tend to assume that they will adjust to the organization (and to an extent they will), but the organization will change around them too. Think of new people as boulders in the white water. The water speed and directions/currents will change when the boulders are moved.
  • Every time the organization is impacted in the market. If you’re not watching the “market” that includes your company, you’re driving down the street toward a dam that has opened up across the street. You will be overtaken by circumstances beyond your control. And you won’t be ready.
  • Every time a new project starts or stops. People are impacted when projects start or stop. Opportunities open up. Companies downsize. This does not necessarily apply only to the people on the project. Sometimes those people are rewarded for the effort they have put into the success of the project—by being moved into your job or into your boss’ job.
  • Every time cost cutting starts. When organizations are cutting costs, they re-look at EVERYTHING. They will at some point look at what value you are adding to the organization. Don’t assume that it is obvious. Use New Eyes to see what they see. In fact, do it before the cost cutting starts. Make sure you’re adding value and that the powers that be know that you are adding value. Don’t assume that it is obvious.
  • Every time the organization gets stretched or starts to grow. Opportunities abound during stretch and growth times. Use NEW EYES to see where the opportunity is. Figure out how to be the one who others think of for those opportunities. Don’t just sit in your day job and let the growth happen around you—be ready and be available for it.
  • When you get a new boss. This is possibly the most important time to be looking through your NEW EYES. Your boss doesn’t know what has gone before. S/he only knows what exists when s/he gets there. If there are problems in the organization, then it is likely that you are perceived (by someone who has just arrived) as part of that problem. Look for ways that you can help your new boss immediately. Look for what your boss wants to accomplish and figure out how to help him/her do it. QUICKLY.
  • When you get new co-workers. Much the same things apply to new colleagues as new bosses. It is a great opportunity to see the organization through new perspectives. What is right and what is wrong about your organization. What can YOU do to help change things that need to be changed? How can you help your new colleagues be successful?
  • When someone important gets fired. In fact when anyone gets fired. Firings should be wake-up calls for everyone. Why did s/he get fired? Did s/he run afoul of someone? Did s/he break a rule? An unwritten rule? Fail to get results? Look at yourself. With NEW EYES.

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Think Your Job Is Secure? Think Again. PLEASE.

Recruitment or Employment Issues Chalk Drawing

Think They Can’t Do Without You?

There are lots of reasons that we think we are indispensable at work.  We know more than anyone else.  We’ve been there longer.  We have a close interdependent relationship with the boss.  We’re way better than others who have been there forever.  Whatever it is that you think about why you are indispensable, you are wrong.  NO ONE is indispensable, not even you.  Think about it:

  • The boss who thinks you are the best thing since sliced bread could be gone tomorrow.  It is unlikely that the new boss will instantly see your worth and if you were a favorite, it is likely that your peers aren’t feeling all that warm and fuzzy about you.
  • You might have been the best of the best at one time, but does that still apply?
  • How expensive are you?  Are there new people (maybe straight out of school with more developed technical skills?) who are as good or almost as good?
  • Do your peers sing your praises?  Or do they try to scuttle your high horse?
  • Have you consistently over delivered incredible results . . . except for the last 6 months-or even worse-the last year?
  • Is the organization shifting its priorities away from your area of expertise?
  • Do you have a reputation of being negative? Or a diva? Or high maintenance?

They CAN Do Without You!

There are all kinds of reasons that organizations decide to part company with people.  SO MANY of those people are shocked because in their own eyes and mind they were indispensable.  The water closes over you head as you leave with barely a ripple.  People remember you and speak of you occasionally, BUT THEY GO ON WITH THEIR JOB.  They figure out workarounds to close the gap left in your absence.  And those gaps close pretty quickly.

So Why Am I Telling You This?

I’m telling you this so that you will come out of your delusion and will do what it takes to either prevent this situation or be able to deal with it if it happens.  I’m telling you this to get your attention before you find yourself on the outside looking in with total disbelief.

Do you remember what it was like when you started your first job, or your latest new job?  Do you remember how focused you were on understanding everything you needed to know.  Do you remember how careful you were in understanding what your boss wanted and in trying to deliver it?  Do you remember how much you tried to understand the unwritten rules of your organization? If you can re-achieve that heightened level of awareness and attentiveness, then you are much more likely not to take your situation for granted.  You are much more likely to escape being marginalized and finding yourself out the door.

What Should You Do?

Every week (yes, EVERY week):

  • Remind yourself to treat your boss the way you did in your first week in this job
  • Remind yourself that your peers can take you out faster than your boss. How are you helping them?  How do they perceive you?  What can you do to further their agendas?
  • Do something to build your network, both inside and outside the organization.  Who at the top of the organization outside your own management chain knows you?  Who do you know at other organizations that interest you?
  • Keep your skills current.  Get certificates.  Go to school.  Know the latest technology. Stay up to date on what is going on in your industry/field.
  • Ask yourself what you’ve done to add value THIS week.

And maybe then you’ll be indispensable:-)

 

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Derailment, Executive Development, Networking, Personal Change, Recession Proof, Reframe

What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then

I have a very clever friend, Deb Graham, founder of ACTStrategic.com, who recently wrote a great article.  She asked several women to tell her what they wish they had know at the beginning of their career, and then she synthesized it into an enlightening article.   You can read her finished paper here.

What a great question!

My Answer to “What I Wish I Had Known At the Beginning of My Career.”

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I started my ‘career’ in my late twenties.  Before that I had jobs that in no way could be considered a career.  When I started the job that became my career, I was young, smart and VERY opinionated.  I thought I knew everything.  The most important thing that I learned, and blessedly I learned it quickly, was that I didn’t know everything.  I learned to listen to others and to be open to possibilities.  One of the most important things that taught me that (and I’m ashamed that I had to learn this) was that I was forced to follow the recommendations of people who worked for me.  I couldn’t figure out any way NOT to follow their recommendations, so I took a deep breath and did what they suggested.  It worked.  It WORKED.  It so worked and it was so nothing that I would have ever thought of that it opened my eyes and my methodologies and changed my career and my life.  I cannot overstate this.  If I hadn’t had this accidental experience, I don’t believe that I would have gone on to manage large departments, nor would I have become VP of Organizational Effectiveness of a large company.

So . . . Lesson #1:  Be open to ideas from all levels of the organization and take chances with people and their ideas.

I had another powerful experience that forced me to understand that the way I look at things can be controlled by me.  I can choose to look at any situation from a completely different perspective–that of the person I’m disagreeing with, that of my boss, that of the customer–INSTANTLY.  I can “flip a switch” on my perspective and REFRAME the situation.  When I remember to do it, it always works.  I am able to see a solution that wasn’t obvious to me before, and I almost always am energized to solve the problem instead of being stuck.

So . . . Lesson #2:  Reframe.  Flip the switch to look at it differently.

What makes you happy?

Finally, the most important and the one that took the longest to figure out is to do the work that I love.  I know . . . people say that and it seems obvious, but it is hard to remember.   Figure out what motivates you and surround yourself with things that motivate—this is almost always work that you love, but could be position or money or recognition.  Whatever it is, create your life with motivation and fun and love.  CREATE. YOUR. LIFE.  Don’t waste your life doing stuff that makes you unhappy or demotivates you. Know what you love, what you want to do, what motivates you and create work and life around those things.

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A Note To Executives: You DON’T Know What Is Going On In Your Organization

Dear Executives:

I know you think you know what is going on in your organization.  I know you think you know who the super performers are and who the “C” players are.  I know you think you know the processes and how the organization delivers its results.  I know you think that you’re on top of it all.  You get dashboards and white papers and report outs from consultants to tell you what is going on.  I know you do surveys to ask your employees what they think.

But you still don’t know.  You don’t know what your people are thinking (most of the people who talk to you tell you what you want to hear or what will help them).  You don’t know what isn’t working in the inner workings of the organization.  You don’t know how badly your intent gets communicated down through the organization.  You don’t know what your organization is REALLY capable of (remember, you are probably getting less than 50% of what your organization is capable of, between the ineffective communication, the out-of-tune management, the inefficient measurement and processes and the lack of flexibility within your organization).

How Do I Know, You Might Ask?

Fair question.  I know because I’ve been there.  I’ve been an Executive in a large corporation.  I know what I thought.  I know that I thought I knew all that stuff I just accused you of believing that you know.  And I’ve more recently been in a lot of organizations at all levels where the Executives thought they knew and didn’t have a clue.  As a consultant, sometimes I talk to the Executives, but more often I come in below the C-level to work on a project that is stalled or understaffed.  I see and hear what people below the Executive level say and think.  I see that they do not have a clear understanding of the purpose of any of the “change” things that they are being asked to do.  They do not believe that Executives know what they are doing.

They Do Not Believe That Executives Know What They Are Doing.

Ouch.  Why is that?  It is because the communication from the top to the bottom in most organizations of any size SUCKS.  In both directions.  The messaging going from the top to the bottom doesn’t get down more than a couple of levels (and in my experience, it rarely gets more than one level).  The communication going in the other direction–from the bottom to the top is non-existent.  People at the bottom, or middle, or even almost at the top, learn very quickly how to communicate up.  ‘Tell ’em what they want to hear.’

The bottom line is that you, as an Executive, think that the brilliant plans that you have come up with are being implemented as you expected and that you will soon get the results that you are expecting.  And that won’t happen.  Eventually, you’ll get some of it.  But not all.  And not when you need it.

There is an apocryphal story about General Schwarzkopf wanting to know how well his front line soldiers understood what there orders from the top were, so he walked around and asked them.  Supposedly he was so appalled that he had training developed to teach his Commanders how to communicate “Commander’s Intent” better.  Whether the story about General Schwarzkopf is true or not, I’m willing to bet it is true in your organization.  Go ask them.  Ask them about your key initiatives–don’t cheat–don’t ask them in a way that they can guess the answer.  Ask them the what, why, how, when and who about the things you believe MUST be done within your organization.  And don’t get mad when they can’t tell you.  It isn’t their fault.

Force yourself to go Undercover Boss.  Go find out what is going on in your organization.  Figure out what you need to do about it.

you don't know your organization

So What Do You Do About It?

The first step is to learn to communicate.  Teach your leadership team how to communicate.  Teach your employees how to communicate up.  Teach your leadership team how to listen.  Start with your self.  Tell people WHY things need to be done.  Tell them over and over and over.  Tell them until they are really sick of hearing it.  Then tell them again.  Measure whether your people are telling their people what is happening, when it is happening, why it is happening.  Tell your people that you’re going to go ask people and that people had better know.  And then do it.

Telling people something once in a stand up meeting, or worse, in an email, is not communication.  You have to first get their attention.  Then you have to make them hear you.  Then you have to ensure that they have understood you.  Then you have to review it.  AND THEN YOU MIGHT GET THE ACTION FROM THEM THAT YOU WANT>

Great Books On the Effective Leader Communication:

  • Make to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath:  I probably site this book more than any other when I’m trying to get people to understand why their listeners don’t automatically embrace their perfectly brilliant ideas.  This book helps you understand why you have to help people go through the adoption process that you yourself did to get their buy in.
  • Influence by Robert Cialdini.  This is probably the number one book on how to ‘influence’ people.  This book explains how to get people to say ‘yes’. Everyone should read it.  Everyone at all levels of the organization.

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Feedback