As organizational leaders, we want employees with an owner mindset (able to see big picture, company issues through the eyes of the CEO) combined with innovation and creativity to create a high performing team. We dream of having people like this who will join us to make a dramatic difference through their contributions. When we find someone who we think fits the profile, we’ll hire them even if we don’t have an open position at the time. Yet, when we get to know them better, we realize that they are hopelessly just like the rest of the crew. So what happened? Are they just all good actors and know how to interview well, or is there something else that inevitably leads to lagging performance? The answer is usually found in the leader’s style and behaviors.
Professional leaders are ones who utilize a set of uncommon skills that stand out when compared to others. We use the word “professional” because this role requires a greater level of discipline, persistence and hard work than what the average person is willing to do. I may be a good golfer, but to be a professional golfer requires so much more. Even well-known athletes, and seemingly the most accomplished, continue to work hard, practice to improve, and use coaches to make them better. If we think we are good leaders, and yet don’t see the kind of performance we would like in our employees, causing us to resort to lord-it-over or command-and-control tactics, then this is evidence that we have yet to arrive, requiring more hard work to be truly professional. We’re amateurs. We begin to improve by working on the basics.
The basics to improve as a professional leader:
– Developing strong influence skills that help others to think it before you have to say it. If you are correcting your employee’s work after they’ve put long, hard hours into the process, then you are likely crushing innovation and creativity, and creating malaise in the ranks. Wholesome influence creates managerial leverage.
– Taking deliberate steps to develop your people. Having a wholesome development mindset toward your employees will likely produce in a systematic, professional delegation process that addresses decision-making limits and provides for succession planning. As my old boss would say, If you can’t leave work for two weeks without your employees needing you, something’s wrong. Build their competencies, not just your own.
– Making it about them, and not about you. If you regularly experience disturbing emotions when things go wrong, you are likely making it about you and not about them. Learn to ask the question, “What do they need right now?” and be prepared to do whatever your answer suggests. Oftentimes this means denying self and forfeiting the luxury of being mad, upset, or to take over out of anger. Use other’s mistakes as laboratories of learning, and be kind.
Each one of the above-mentioned disciplines has an array of “workout routines” required to build the needed muscle and become a true professional. After reading Geoff Colvin’s book, “Talent is Overrated,” I am even more convinced that we can all make substantial progress to becoming a professional leader, if we just give it the attention and hard work it requires. Let’s remember that professional leadership behaviors are counterintuitive in nature—doing what comes natural just won’t cut it when it comes to leading others.
Coaching questions: What regimen have you applied to cultivate more professional leadership skills? What steps can you take to “stay in shape”? Write your answers in your journal.