January 11, 2012

‘I Wanted to Design; Now I Lead’ …

colourful pencils in drawer

What happens when the thing you loved doing the most – the reason you stepped up for your chosen career – is no longer present in your job?

I’ve spoken to directors who were designers, managers who were mechanics, and leaders who were lifeguards – all of whom have progressed far enough in their careers that the activity that made them stand out  in the first place has been downsized to almost zero and replaced with leadership responsibilities primarily comprising of strategy and motivating others.

It’s not entirely a bad thing. And it could easily be called ‘natural career progression’. If it describes you then know this; stepping forward into leadership is best when:

  • you’re still involved with people who are doing the thing you loved – and you can inspire them
  • the knowledge you acquired developing the skill-set of your passion can continue to be shared
  • by doing so, you discover something more about yourself that you couldn’t have aspired to at the outset of your career journey

I don’t know any career newbees who when asked ‘what would you like to be’, they answer ‘A leader’, ‘A CEO’, or ‘A board director’. Instead they aspire to be architects, clothes designers, marine engineers, environmental scientist, flower importers – you know? Things that directly link them to the product or service they want to offer to others.

My question is this: if leadership is naturally what we all progress towards then how come we don’t:

  • talk about it to our students and new starts to prepare them for going beyond their ‘first stage’ career
  • equip our directors with a full leadership skill set in as much detail as we would a doctor
  • support leaders constantly so that in their rising to the top of our organisations, they continue to exude the creativity and innovation that we know they inherently own because we saw it displayed in their ‘stage 1’ passion

When a company’s leaders are disciplined and successful, but not 100% passionate about the role they’ve progressed to, not only does the organisation lose their return on investment in that person, they also haemorrhage possibility, opportunity and competitive edge.

No one would drive a car with a leak in the petrol tank – it limits the speed and potential of you getting from A to B. So why do we accept a reduced performance in our most valued and invested-in employees?

To get way out in front in 2012, here’s where I believe the treasure lies:

  • FOCUS on your key 10-20 performers and, especially if they’re outstanding, invest further in them (coaching, mentoring, enabling)
  • CREATE (or access) a platform which brings together leaders from different, non-competitive disciplines and companies to share stories that inspire and prompt radical, new thinking and stimulating possibilities (the TED.com theory: ideas worth sharing)
  • TALK! If you’re an HR Director or Talent Manager, get out there and do the rounds with your board members and fellow directors – find out the development they’d most value.
  • TALK! If you’re a director or leader in your business, go and find your Learning & Development contact and ask them what the possibilities are for you to actively evolve yourself and your results this year
  • TALK! If you’re from an organisation where you know there’s a valuable conversation to be had with a counterpart in a non-competitive organisations, pick up the phone, call him/her and get the revolution started.

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