By Lorraine Grubbs
It took several months of “two steps forward and one step back”. John, the newly appointed Chief Pilot of an aviation company finally started seeing positive results of his work to get his ego under control. His boss and mainly his team began to respond to his new leadership tactics as the “new” John consistently kept his ego under control.
In our final session, John walked in with a big smile on his face. “Good morning!” he said as he took a seat across from me. “Good morning,” I responded.
“First and foremost, I would like to personally thank you for all you have done to help me conquer my tough problem.” John said. “When I first met you, I can now see how cocky I was. I didn’t understand that my ego was undermining my leadership effectiveness. I have learned so much from our sessions and it’s clear that since the last 360-degree review, my efforts are being noticed and appreciated. I feel like I now have a team that respects me and I them.”
“Well,” I said, “Can we go back and review the past six months? Tell me what you did that brought you to the level of respect with your team.”
“Sure!” said John. “I’ve actually got it all documented. Here are the lessons I took away from each session.”
As John talked, I noted the lessons:
Lesson One: Get a Coach. Whether you are paying for a coach or asking someone who is a successful business leader (and teacher) to mentor you, get help. No one becomes successful alone. Recognizing that others can help is an important first step. In John’s case, his ego was so strong that he thought he knew it all and therefore felt that he needed no one.
Lesson Two: Assess Yourself. Take a look at your strengths and weaknesses. Get to know yourself. John took the MBTI (Myers-Briggs) and “Now, Discover Your Strengths” assessments. This allowed him to see himself in a whole new light. Before beginning any leadership development program, get to know you.
Lesson Three: Become Aware of How Your Actions are Affecting Others. After our first session, I implemented a 360-degree review with John’s team. Each team member, a peer, and his boss were asked to participate in an anonymous leadership assessment. When John got the results, while he did not like them, they clearly indicated to him the areas he needed to work on to regain his true leadership status with the team.
Lesson Four: Create a Personal Development Plan. Once John knew the areas he needed to work on, we crafted a plan to help him work on the things that were affecting his success. We applied the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound) approach. During our meetings, John gave updates on these specific areas.
Lesson Five: Get Curious. Use your resources. Improving leadership skills requires utilizing multiple resources. In John’s case, not only did I recommend articles, white papers, classes, and books, but I also asked him to do his own research and come up with other resources. This kept the accountability on him. It was a habit I hoped he would incorporate into his leadership approach from now on. Lifelong learning never stops and successful leaders should always stay on top of their game.
Lesson Six: Fail Forward. Anytime you start learning and applying new techniques, you will have failures. It’s like a baby learning to walk. At first they keep falling down but they don’t give up, and eventually they are walking on their own without falling. Learning is just like that. Once you start applying a new technique, know that you will get better using it in time. Once you hit that first bump in the road, analyze what went wrong, pick yourself up, and keep going. No successful leader ever made it without “failing forward”. The key is to learn from those failures.
Lesson Seven: Check Back In. To ensure you are truly making progress, touch base with the same group you did initially and ask for their feedback again six months later. By doing all the above, you will have much better results. If you don’t, question your job fit. In John’s case, we saw positive results. But if we hadn’t, we would have discussed whether he belonged in leadership. If you don’t like people, if you cannot treat them with respect, if you are uncomfortable communicating with your team on a regular basis…leadership may not be for you. Be courageous enough to recognize that and strike out on a path more suited to your strengths.
Lesson Eight: And…You’ve Arrived…NOT! Never rest on your laurels. The leadership journey is a continual one with no end. Every good leader understands we live in a constantly changing environment and the challenge is to stay on top of and incorporate those changes when it makes sense.
Lesson Nine: Pay It Forward. Now that you “get it”, teach others. Great leaders enjoy teaching others. By sharing your knowledge, they are not only reinforcing their own learning but they’re developing future leaders for the company. It’s a win-win. John left our final session having documented his own path, but he also identified someone on his team who he felt had the potential to move into leadership but lacked the experience. He vowed to approach that person and begin a coaching relationship with them.
I looked at John and said, “John, do you realize what you’ve done? You have grown into a good leader. Your journey could just as easily have gone the other direction but because you took the time and effort to improve, it worked. Pat yourself on the back and, now… get back to work!”
As John walked out, I closed his file and headed off to my next assignment…Sally was an executive who had been put on final probation and needed help.