Leadership development – can I do it myself

Numerous times in my 12 years of coaching and leadership development I've been asked by clients whether I think they'd have got to the conclusion they reach by themselves. I almost alway say 'yes'. When an answer needs to be found and layers of assumptions need to be let go to find it, that process will inevitably happen. Conversations will set you thinking, choices will present themselves, learning opportunities will occur, people will leave your team, others will join and gradually the vision you were holding will get closer and closer.

So what's the point in investing time and money with an executive coach if you're going to get there anyway? The answer is clarity and speed! Everyone learns a methodology of thinking and of working that comes to them with the education they've had and the experiences they've accumulated. Successful corporate leaders recognise that the process of acquiring more knowledge and refining what they know is ongoing (sometimes on a daily basis because change can happen so fast). A committment to lifelong learning inevitably sets the super-achievers apart from the pack.

Along with the specific wisdom you acquire you also collect specific assumptions and habits. They may have served you well last year or in your previous role, however today those tools might be the exact thing that's going to slow you down on your journey to achieving the big goal.

I had the priviledge very recently of talking with on of the UKs top masters squash players. He has national and international events coming up over the next 6 months and was talking about his training program. It included daily gym work for stamina, court work for accuracy, and sparring with other equally-levelled opponents for reactions and maintaining match fitness.

'Who's your coach?' I asked. 'I don't have one right now' he replied. (What?!!). We then had the discussion about all the training he was investing in right now and how it was great for sustaining fitness and perhaps even slightly improving his game over the next 4 months. However, alone he'd quickly reach a plateau and cease to be stretched by his sparring partners. When the World Masters arrive he'd absolutely want to bring his 'A' game and he'd be more likely to do that by working now with a coach. A trained, experienced eye to observe his game from the outside, making small (or perhaps significant) changes and partnering him in defining and achieving some stretch goals delivering the best competitive advantage when the tournament season comes round.

As much as this makes sense in sport, it makes the same sense in business. Directors, CEOs and team leaders can fast-track their growth and their 'business muscle' by partnering with a great executive coach. This coach isn't going to run your business day-to-day, nor will they put in the hours that are required to reach your ulimate vision. What they will do is to ask you some excellent questions, challenge some subtle assumptions, push you to stretch your comfort zone. 

The knock-on effect of working with an experienced executive coach is that your clarity will grow, you'll have key conversations more suscinctly and confidently, you'll know who to draw closer to you and who to distance yourself from and instead of achieving your goals in a year or two's time, you'll notice them taking form in just a few short months. Leadership development is an ongoing investment in keeping key directors clear, motivated and action-orientated. If one of those leaders is you, the ultimate result is that your productivity soars and you achieve twice the success in half the time.

CEO coaching … leaders who lifelong learn

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it asked by corporate leaders from directors, to board members to CEOs  “but why would I need coaching … I’m doing everything right”. To which I reply “you wouldn’t be at your level of success if you weren’t doing everything right. And I work with achievers not because there are issues, but because there’s always unreleased potential”.

A founding father of the US, Benjamin Franklin said, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

A noted polymath was old Franklin which means he had a great deal of knowledge about a wide range of topics. He was known for his considered opinion, his wisdom, his diplomacy and his natural ability to lead and to inspire others. I’m guessing he meant it then, when he also said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

In metaphysics there’s a law called ‘the law of perpetual transmutation’. It means that all things physical and non-physical exist in a constantly state of change – expanding, reducing, evolving. There’s never nothing happening. Nothing stays the same. The universe’s default is transformation.

The most successful leaders, managing directors, CEOs on the planet know all about this law. You’d never hear them say ‘I’m complete; all the things on my list are ticked; we’ve reached every goal I ever had for myself, the company, the customers, the systems, the employees and the products & services… so, yeah. We’re done’.

Because, too right they’d be ‘done’! Done gathering new ideas; done sensing what’s next for the marketplace; done navigating the company’s best talent towards unearthing new opportunities.

There IS no ‘done’ in the life-cycle of successful leaders within progressive organisations. Personal growth & progress = greater team achievements = product & service improvements  = ongoing business success; just like Franklin said it would.

Every individual leader is called to be creative and to lead and expand themselves and their business in a way that’s unique to them. There are no co-incidences in any man or woman’s rise to the helm of a notable corporate company to pioneer a new chapter for its tribe. Directors who actively develop integrity, respect, wisdom, a sense of themselves, and a healthy relationship with risk will thrive.

Lifelong learning is a commitment. There are no right or wrong ways to go about it – study a formal course, hire an executive coach, read, listen, watch, blog, join a mastermind – your style, your choice. But it is a conscious decision to walk this path – you cannot inherit leadership success. The results show in each of us to a depth and effectiveness equal to the hours invested in developing the craft.

I leave you with an Irish saying which is up there, in my opinion, with the wisdom of Mr Franklin: “You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.”

‘I Wanted to Design; Now I Lead’ …

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.

The Best Success Coach – You!

What does it take for anyone to be the best at anything? And does being labelled the best success coach in the UK take different traits to being the best runner in the Olympics, the best artist of the Turner Prize, the best actress at the Oscars or the best leader in your organisation?

The word ‘best’ is often used to compare one person, talent or event to another. In this sense, I would steer clear of using it unless it’s in a context of comparing me with myself. Wayne Dyer once said that ‘true nobility is not about being better than anyone else, it’s about being better than I used to be’. With that in mind, here’s some of what I think it takes to bring out the best in who you’re striving to become:

  • A Compelling Vision: when it’s cold and wet and you have to get up for training, when you fingers are blistered from strumming those guitar chords a thousand times over, when you’ve got to dig deep  to spend another day of business waiting for the breakthrough, a compelling vision will re-ignite passion and motivation to underpin the drive to keep going.

My vision is defined in writing, on a vision board and in a series of mind movies – so that however I’m reminded, it’s inspiring.

  • Personal Responsibility: no one became the best in their field by looking outside of themselves for the answers, by comparing themselves to another or for finding someone to blame. Each person has a definition of success that’s as unique to them as is their fingerprint and a route to achieving that success that navigates through unchartered territory.

I regularly shake off the echos of ‘if you could write like her …’; ‘if you had money like him …’; ‘if you were as smart as …’. I’m 100% responsible for the thoughts I think, the choices i make and for how big I choose to show up in the world.

  • Increasing Self Awareness: What other’s can observe about you will only ever be a tiny piece of the jigsaw. When you develop the skill of tuning in to the physical signs, the intellectual promptings, the emotional resonances, and the spiritual meaning of the vision you’re choosing, then you can fully expand into the truth about your purpose. Only then can you stretch for the heights you secretly dream about. No limits remember?

For me, self awareness and self development are two circles with a venn-diagram-like cross over point. My personal aim is to expand that central part to a point where awareness and development are entirly overlapping and function with syncronicity at all times … a work in progress.

I’ve worked with clients whose compelling vision, once defined clearly and courageously, has been enough to change their thoughts, their feelings, and their ability to take inspired action. Subsequently results begin to appear, sometimes so significantly and speedily that you wonder where they could have been hiding for all this time.

So, is it possible for you to be the best at whatever it is you expect for yourself? With vision, responsibility and awareness I say ‘yes’. The most important thing as I always say, is to go inside for your answers – to take some quiet time, shut your eyes, focus your mind towards your heart and let the best you step forward!