Tag Archives: Career development

Let’s Start at the Beginning–What is Leadership?

What is Leadership?

This is the most important question in any discussion on  how to build your personal leadership skills.  It is also the most difficult to answer.  Leadership is a behavior.  Leadership is a perception.  Leadership is a process.  Leadership is a set of skills.  Leadership is a position.  All of these are true.  And all of these are inadequate to define leadership.  Most importantly, leadership is in the eye of the beholder.  What you believe about leadership shapes your belief about how leaders should behave.  What the people who behold you as a leader believe about leadership shapes what they require of you as a leader.  What is happening at the time–the circumstances–shape what is required of you as a leader.  So . . . what you believe about leadership is only one small element of what should be shaping you as a leader if you want to be an effective leader.

So How Do You Figure This Out?

You start any investigation of leadership by examining your own experience.  When you think of the best leaders you have ever known, what characteristics did they have?  What behaviors?  What knowledge? How did they make you feel?  How did they communicate with you and others.  Was there a difference?  How did they delegate?  How did they handle the big picture?  How did they handle the detail?  Were they outgoing or were they introverted?  Were they smart?  Did the people who worked for them like them?  Did they get along with their peers? Whatever your answers to these questions, chances are that is what creates your concept of a “good” leader.

Your “good” leader had some negative characteristics too, though.  What did s/he do wrong?  Or, just not right?  What were the flaws, character, career or leadership, that your ‘best’ leader had.

Now, make a similar list of characteristics, behaviors, skills, knowledge of your “worst” leaders.  Why were they such bad leaders?  What did they do wrong?  What was it that set you on edge about them?

Now—put your “honest” hat on.  For the “bad” leader to actually have a leader role, s/he must have done something right.  What were the good qualities of your “worst” leader?  If you still have your “honest” hat on, the good and bad characteristics/skills/behaviors of both the “best” leader and the “worst” leader are likely to have some overlap.  If not, go back and adjust your “honest” hat and look again.

How People Become Leaders

Combinations of skills, traits, experiences, behaviors, and circumstances come together to put people in leadership roles.  One of my favorite stories–possibly apocryphal, but it makes the point nonetheless–is that Winston Churchill was a failure as a leader until World War II came along and the English people needed Churchill’s specific combination of skills.  True?  I’m sure there is another version or two of this story.  However, there are specific circumstances that call out for specific skill sets from leaders.  A leader who is great in a steady state, leading a large stable organization is not necessarily the right leader for a small entrepreneurial organization, or vice versa.

Baking a Cake

Becoming a leader is like baking a cake from scratch–a little of this, some of that, stir it up and bake it at the right temperature for the right length of time.  Becoming a leader is a lot more complicated than that too.  Becoming a leader requires you to be a learning machine.  It requires you to evaluate yourself in a richly open and objective way.  It requires you to push yourself to have experiences and to reflect about those experiences.  It requires you to try things that don’t work and learn from them.  It requires you to learn to listen and trust and experiment.  It requires you to remain flexible throughout.  There is not a leader anointing body that picks you and says “thou art a leader.”

If you want to be a leader, then I invite you to stay tuned through this series of posts on leadership.  I invite you to challenge yourself to answer the questions and reflect on your own knowledge of leadership.  I challenge you to talk to others about leadership.  It’s up to you.

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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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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Personal Change, Unwritten Rules

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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Do You Take Initiative?

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Duh.  I Know To Take The Initiative.

You’ve heard that you should take initiative. Duh. But do you do it? Do you suggest ideas? Do you seek to improve the situation? Do you take action? Do you do it when it isn’t expected? The FREE Dictionary defines “take the initiative” as “to activate oneself to do something even if one has not been asked to do it.” That last part is the important part–even if one hasn’t been asked to do it.  Do you do things without being asked to do them? Do you surprise the people you work with by taking on things and getting them done?  So many of us wait around to be told to do stuff.  Do you see things that need to be done, problems that need to be solved, and do you take them on and get them done?

Taking the initiative can make the difference between getting noticed and not.  It can get you attention from the right people in your organization.  Part of the reason for that is that it is such a surprise when people actually step out of their ‘wait to be told’ role and think for themselves and take action.  You may think I’m crazy.  You may think that people take the initiative all the time.  But think about the last time someone actually surprised you by doing something that needed to get done that wasn’t clearly in his/her responsibility.

People who are good at their job are good at what their job is–not beyond that.  People who take initiative are beyond good at their job.  They are on their way to being good at the next level job and the one beyond that.  They are thinking (and acting) like their boss.  Whoa, you may say.  My boss won’t like that.  I’ll step on his/her toes.  There is a difference between ‘doing’ your boss’ job and taking iniative.  When you take initiative, you help your boss rather than step on his/her toes.  You lift some of the load.  Remember–SURPRISE is the key.

So How Do You Take Initiative?

We are well trained to do what we are told.  We learned it at home.  It was enforced at school.  (I once did a survey of middle school teachers of how they identified students who were leaders.  Many of them said the leaders were the ones who followed directions, were quiet and did what they were told!)  We learned to succeed at our entry level jobs by learning and following the rules quickly and well.  Our bosses expect us to do the things that are in our job.  They don’t expect much else.  And so we learn.  We modulate our brains and actions to fit without our roles.  We wait to be told to act beyond the day to day-ness of our jobs.

The key to taking the initiative is the way you think about it.  Do you see a problem?  Instead of just seeing it and walking by it, think about what could be done about it.  Think about what YOU could do about it.  Then DO it.  It takes some bravery.  It’s like visiting a new city without a map.  Make creating that surprise your goal.

The first time I did it, I did it by accident.  I created a report of my observations about something just because I was  too full of my own opinions to keep quiet about it.  It didn’t occur to me that anything would happen except that someone might read my report.  Then I just couldn’t stop with the opinions and made some suggestions at the end of the report.  I didn’t see it as taking the initiative.  I saw it as finding a way of expressing my opinions and ideas that were trying to push their way out of me.  Apparently this spontaneous creation of opinion and suggestion (on a problem that had been driving people nuts for a while) from someone at my level was completely unexpected.  It got attention.  It got me called into a meeting with people at the top of the organization to be questioned about my ideas.  It got me assigned to the group to implement some of the ideas (that got funded beyond my imagination).  It started my career on its way.  I recently found a copy of the report I wrote so long ago.  It wasn’t particularly well written.  Today I would know how to ‘sell’ the ideas and I would have pre-sold them to people to make the organization more receptive.  My reaction when I found that report, however, was–that is when my career hit a pivot point.  When someone read that report, he was surprised.  Maybe the surprise itself made him pay attention to the content.  I can see now:  I took the initiative.  That accident taught me the benefit of taking the initiative.

So What Do You Do?

  • Proactively look at problems.
  • Think about what it would take to SOLVE them.
  • Think about what you could do to get the ball rolling.
  • DO IT.

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Goal Setting, Success