Literal Thinking

Real stories of workplace follies

Archive for March, 2009

12 early signs of leadership potential

Posted by A Friend on 30 March 2009

Potential Early this month, in our post about good performers failing as leaders, we alluded to a view that not all good followers, performers, and managers can become good leaders. In fact, some people – and some are very good performers – dread becoming “the boss” (see “The Boss Trap” for a good and concise case study).

Good performance in an existing role should not mean an automatic promotion into a new role, especially if the new role requires someone who does not want to become a boss to be the boss. In our experience, the selection process for leadership promotion continues to be wrongly heavily weighted against current performance.

While current performance should continue to be part of the criteria, we believe the identification of leadership attributes should have a heavier weighting. Provided below is a list of early signs of leadership potential that we believe should figure prominently in any leadership consideration.

    1. Future leaders have initiative. They are quick to identify things that need to be done, and proceed to just do these, with minimal prompting and supervision. Should they be stuck with not a lot of productive things to do, they ask for more work. They do not wait around and are not contented to just be fed work and instructions.

    2. Future leaders take ownership. They run with the tasks given to them and take responsibility for their completion. They do not go around asking how things should be done every five minutes, they just do. They are not afraid of making mistakes.

    3. Future leaders listen to others and seek advice. This should not be confused with the pest asking questions every five minutes because they are afraid of making mistakes and taking ownership, and wants to be guided every step of the way in completing their tasks. Future leaders understand that there is so much that they need to learn, and they act like sponges to new insights and ideas. Future leaders seek role models and mentors; they are thirsty and hungry for knowledge.

    4. Future leaders have an independent mind. They may not know everything and may ask around for people’s insights, but they have their own mind and draw their own conclusions. When mentoring a future leader, a good sign that you are in the right track is when you have regular “agree to disagree” sessions.

    5. Future leaders are passionate and opinionated. They have views and causes that they feel strongly about, and they do not shy away from sharing these (bonus points if these are contrary to a mentor’s); these do not even have to be work related. This shows that they are not fence sitters or brown nosers; and they are strong decision makers.

    6. Future leaders share their knowledge. They understand that the more they share, the more they get back, and the better it is for everyone. Knowledge hoarders are generally the types who are insecure of themselves or their position in organizations; they should not be leading.

    7. Future leaders recognize their limitations. They know that they cannot possibly know and do everything. They are not loath to revealing their weaknesses, and even strive to ensure that these are addressed by surrounding themselves with people who have strengths in their problem areas.

    8. Future leaders seek help. This is very closely related to the previous two items. Future leaders seek help because they lack the skills and competency, because there are others who can perform better, or because it is an opportunity to share knowledge around. Future leaders do not seek help to palm off tasks they do not want.

    9. Future leaders accept mistakes. People who take task ownership will invariably make mistakes – lots, even. Future leaders readily admit the mistakes they make, learn from these, and move on. They do not make excuses.

    10. Future leaders avoid putting blame on others. While future leaders readily admit mistakes that are theirs, they are often protective of others. What this means is while a mistake is acknowledged, finger-pointing is generally avoided. Future leaders are quick to claim the mistake as “ours” or “the team’s” rather than singling an individual out.

    11. Future leaders assume informal leadership roles. They do not need to be formally assigned a leadership role or title; they just naturally assume the role. We should stress naturally: they do not do it to score extra points or gain an advantage over their peers. They assume the role for its own sake, not because of some implied reward.

    12. Future leaders inspire performance. A future leader’s passion, drive, and commitment are contagious. They inspire others around them to perform, and they often bring out the best in everyone included in their sphere of influence.

If you are managing someone who exhibits more than half of the above traits, you have under your wing a potential leader. Nurture them, keep them, challenge them.

And if there are other potential leadership attributes you know about or look for in a candidate, please leave a comment and let us know.


Posted in Leadership & Management | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »

Personal leadership development framework applied

Posted by A Friend on 25 March 2009

Journey Over the last few weeks, a lot of the search traffic leading to this site has been around personal leadership development. We suspect this is mainly related to the personal leadership development framework we posted early this month, and we think it might be a good idea to provide our readers with an example of how this framework can be applied in real life.

A very important consideration to make is the framework is most useful for the individual leadership aspirant, and should thus be applied out of their own initiative. The individual should ideally try to get this framework to fit in the formal development models their organization may have for them (if any), but this is not a requirement (and the lack of one should not be made an excuse).

Ethan is a programmer in his late 20s who aspires to take on more leadership and management roles in his company, a boutique IT services provider. Ethan’s concern is he believes he lacks the soft skills required for a management or leadership position, even as he is readily recognized as a technical expert. Adding to Ethan’s worry is, as is typical of small firms, his company lacks a formal development plan for its employees.

Rather than wait for his company to provide the management and leadership exposure and training that might not eventuate, Ethan decided to be more proactive about his situation and sought his own learning avenues using our personal leadership development framework. Provided below are some of the main points that Ethan took out of this process (applied during a one year period).

Know and understand yourself

Ethan knew that he is a very good programmer and can continue to develop further technical expertise if he so wanted. This was the easiest pursuit for him as the development requirements would be closely related to his job description. However, Ethan wanted to slowly move into a management or leadership role. He understood that he is still lacking in both soft skills and business nous, so he determined that this is the main area of development that he was going to pursue.

On a personal level, Ethan recognized that, perhaps typical of a lot of programmers, he is not the most social of people. Ethan decided that it was time for him to go out of his comfort zone and try to be more social. Ethan thought that whatever social skills he can develop can also be good for him professionally.

Study leadership

Ethan was only starting out in his leadership and management journey, so he did not really know how and where to start in this area. As a starting point, Ethan decided that he was going to buy a leadership or personal development book that provides a good balance of theoretical and practical advice. After consulting some friends and colleagues, Ethan decided on Primal Leadership.

Ethan further decided that he was going to include the study of leadership and management as one of his major objectives for the year.

Find mentors and role models

Ethan had always wanted to have someone mentor him, but he had not really found anyone suitable. Ethan decided that it was going to be hard for him to find one in his workplace as for starters, they did not have a formal mentoring or development program. Ethan does recognize the importance of having a mentor or role model, and he made the conscious decision of finding one, even if it was going to be outside work.

Map out a personal development plan

Considering what Ethan felt were his immediate development needs (i.e. learning leadership and management theory and skills; and finding mentors and role models), he decided on the following three objectives for the year:

    Pursue a postgraduate management degree – the most logical development initiative given his goals; the timing was also good, as he anticipated business to slow down as a natural result of current economic conditions

    Become an active member of business related professional association – to help him both develop additional social skills and expand his professional network

    Join a local tennis club – mainly for development of interpersonal skills

Involve others

Ethan had to involve his manager in the decision to pursue further studies as he needed to make sure that this does not conflict with his work commitments. To his surprise, his manager offered partial subsidy; it turned out that the company had a budget for employees who wish to pursue further studies.

In school, Ethan was required to do a lot of group work. He found this exciting, especially because of the great diversity of his classmates. One of his group mates with whom he quickly developed a strong relationship with recommended him for membership to a professional management association.

Objectively assess outcomes

By the end of the year, Ethan saw that while he continued to do more of the same at work, he had grown tremendously from his out of work activities. He especially enjoyed the progressive interaction he had with his schoolmates, and his newfound acquaintances from both the management association and the tennis club that he joined. Ethan did not learn anything new from a technical perspective, but this is adequately compensated by the “soft skills” and the management and leadership knowledge he is starting to develop.

Critically analyze outcomes

Looking at the results of the year, it was clear to Ethan that, sooner or later, he will have to choose a particular path: technical competence, or leadership and management development. He could not have it both ways.

Reassess yourself

The year’s experience showed Ethan that while he has the established reputation for technical competence and can “safely” pursue this as a career, he is more interested in pursuing leadership and management roles. He is not sure if it is just a passing fancy, but he certainly wants to give it a shot.

– o –

The above is just a very high level view of how our proposed model can be applied. We would like to note two things: as per our example, the framework is not very difficult to implement; and it is best for this application to be an ongoing process.

In Ethan’s case for example, immediately continuing from the above, he slowly moved into a pre-sales and business development role in his company; and also became more involved as a volunteer in the professional organization that he joined. Directly related to this, he found a couple of good mentors: the managing director of his company with whom he is now working more closely with, and the president of the above mentioned professional organization.

Posted in Career Management, Case Studies, Leadership & Management | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

6 signs your online guru might be ripping you off

Posted by A Friend on 20 March 2009

Online Rip-off Following on from our previous post on the lure of online ventures, below are six signs that your presumed online guru might not be a guru at all and may in fact be ripping you off.

Please note that this post is not about your garden variety online scammer. Neither is this about those who do affiliate marketing, network marketing, or pay per post blogging: these are legitimate online ventures that people from all walks of life undertake. Rather, this post is about those who purport to be experts in their niche areas but their supposed expertise are hardly visible in their online activity; and thus, the product or service they offer is often not worth the time and money that they are asking from you.

1. Their love of writing does not translate to lovely writing

A lot of monetized blogs that we have visited, regardless of their topic niche, claim their love of writing, communicating, and helping others as one of their primary reasons for starting the blog; never mind that half of their pages are percolated with advertisements and/or paid links. The first sign to look out for that your online guru might not be the real deal is if their proclaimed love of writing does not seem to flow through their content.

Bloggers often write posts in a hurry and click the publish button even more quickly, so it is harsh to always expect perfectly written articles. Not to mention that there are genuine bloggers out there who learned English as their second or third language. It should, however be expected of monetized blogs that their posts have at least had some thought before writing and publication. Astute blog readers can easily spot haphazardly written material and monetized bloggers who produce second rate articles too regularly are not worth paying.

2. Contents of their free e-book are freely available elsewhere

A common approach monetized blogs take these days is inviting readers to subscribe to free newsletters. Often, to entice the reader to subscribe, these bloggers offer a free e-book related to their niche. This free e-book is the subscribers’ first feel of what the blogger’s other premium services are going to be like, so one can be sure that a lot of care has been undertaken in producing the e-book, even if it is provided for free.

A telltale sign that a blogger’s premium service is not worth subscribing to is if the free e-book they provide contains nothing new. The web is so full of free information that anyone with an internet browser and a modicum of patience can find information on almost anything. A premium service, regardless of whether it costs $2 or $20, is only really worth paying if it offers something one can’t get freely.

3. Too much content filler

Bloggers have creative ways of churning out mindless posts when their minds blank out of post ideas. Some of these include posting an interesting photo or video they supposedly accidentally ran into (they may add a line or two of text to make it appear they exerted some effort); writing a list of top blog posts or related news stories of the week or month and providing nothing more than links to external sites and a couple of sentences (sometimes straight out of search engine results) for each link; running semi-relevant reader polls; and publishing best of articles that do nothing but rehash old posts.

These strategies are all right and acceptable if used sparingly. But some blogs – monetized ones at that – do these too regularly. So imagine a blogger doing Monday Mayhem (quirky videos), Wordless Wednesday (photos), Friday Feedback (reader polls), Saturday Sweep (weekly news aggregation), and Sunday Syndication (best of the blogosphere) posts: five blog posts a week, zero original content.

4. Too much affiliate marketing material

So you were interested enough in the blog and were seduced by the spiffy looking subscriber only free e-book (you only saw the glossy cover, but hey) that you decided to sign up for the blogger’s “totally free” subscription service. Unfortunately, in quite a number of cases, a lot of the good stuff ends with the submission of your e-mail address.

Some bloggers only aim to get you to subscribe and then go with the weight of numbers to hard-sell their product or service. One good way of measuring the quality of these types of subscription services is the volume of true free content that they provide.

Ideally, all the required content should already be in the newsletter. There may be occasional hyperlinks to related information, but the astute reader should determine how many of these lead to affiliate programs. Affiliate marketing can be quite lucrative for a blogger, generating the affiliate as much as 75% of revenue per sale. It is okay to sparingly do this, as there are some genuinely good products and services out there that may be related to a blogger’s niche. But if this is essentially all your guru provides, then you have to wonder where the “premium” service is.

5. Too many product and service endorsements

Another income generator bloggers may use is product and/or service endorsements, and the most common way of doing this is through pay per post or other similar programs. This alone can be a good revenue source for stay at home bloggers, and there are in fact blogs that provide nothing else other than paid posts.

Still, bloggers who profess to be experts and sell products and services related to their field should not be doing this, or at least not so blatantly. A sure sign that your guru may not be worth your time and money is when they all too regularly write posts singing praises of random products and services. It is likely that they already had their fill and you do not need to “donate” further through premium subscriptions.

6. Extravagant claims of success

The most telling sign that your online guru may be a sham is when they try to bamboozle you with extravagant claims of success – but only if you buy or subscribe to their product or service. Extravagant claims are a very common internet marketing strategy, but often by multi level and affiliate marketers.

“Expert” bloggers who resort to similar tactics either know very little about effective marketing strategies, or know clearly that their product or service provides very little value that they hope to gloss this over with an overwhelming sales pitch. Regardless, our view is they are not really worth your time of day, or your money.

As we stated at the beginning of this post, affiliate marketing, network marketing, and pay per post blogging are legitimate ventures people from all walks of life do online. But people who profess subject matter expertise should not be doing this. If you all too often see two or more of the above six signs in your online guru, it is probably a sign that you should walk away.

Posted in Blogging | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

The lure of online ventures

Posted by A Friend on 15 March 2009

Going Online The promise of making money online is a great one: entry cost can be very low, and reach is immediately global. An online business only needs a micro fraction of the market to be set, and it offers a lot of potential work life balance benefits (e.g. working from home, four hour workdays) too tantalizing for the almost burned out with a still young family 30-something corporate professional to ignore. Not to mention that it can become a big financial bonanza.

This was more or less the case with Sandra when she ventured online. Sandra had a blossoming career as a project manager with over ten years in the industry under her belt. She was not burned out at all, and was in fact enjoying her work. But she and her partner were also planning to start a family, and one of them had to significantly cut down their workload to attend to growing family commitments. Both decided that this had to be Sandra.

For a short while, Sandra worked part-time utilizing her network of professional contacts, and this worked out quite well. But then they “discovered” the potential of making money online (a lot, if they hit the jackpot). This, and the possibility of further reducing Sandra’s working time, was too good to pass up.

So Sandra educated herself; first by purchasing and reading a couple of books on making money online, then by subscribing to and following online money making blogs. After some period of discernment, Sandra decided that she would create a monetized blog on project management and related topics. She thought that this was going to be a natural progression for her, having had the industry experience to back her up.

Sandra decided to invest $1,000 for this venture, most of which was envisioned to go to once off costs: purchasing a proper domain name, paying for website hosting, buying a custom template for her blog, and the rest for initial marketing and promotion. Of course Sandra, like us, could have just gone for one of the many free blog hosting services on the internet, but because she was looking at a longer-term business prospect, she thought it was a good idea to initially invest some money into it. Besides, $1,000 was not a lot: it was less than her daily rate as a contract project manager.

Sandra planned a phased rollout of six months’ worth of content to start with (she had mapped out the topics in her mind). She projected that it would take about three months for the blog to start gaining some serious following. Her promotions plan was to just initially submit to blog directories and search engines, and regularly participate in related online forums and social networks in the first three months. She planned her online “marketing blitz” (mainly through Google AdWords) to only commence after the third month, to run for three months, and she planned the posting of some of her best content during this period.

Problems came up as early as the second month of Sandra’s online venture. Foremost is Sandra realized that writing original content was not as easy as she initially thought. Sure, she knew her topics very well, but writing about these was a totally different kettle of fish, especially since she was not a natural writer. Her number of real visitors was way down on initial projections, and her blog was still buried in (at best) page five for search results of her targeted keywords.

To fast-track readership growth, Sandra decided that she needed to advertise online two months earlier than she initially planned. This meant that she also needed to spruce up her content and produce a subscriber-only free e-book meant to entice subscription sign-ups (she planned to do this at the start of her marketing campaign) more quickly. The need to write a big volume of material at such a short period of time required Sandra to temporarily hire a ghost writer, something that she had not originally planned.

The advertising campaign worked, and Sandra saw an immediate spike in site visits and newsletter subscriptions; and she even started seeing her site landing in the first few search results of her targeted keywords. Unfortunately, all these did not automatically translate to financial returns. Sandra initially intended pay per click advertising to be her main source of revenue, but she quickly realized that only a small proportion of her visitors clicked on ads, and the monthly revenue she was getting from these was barely enough to cover for her site’s hosting.

Sandra’s operational costs had also increased. She realized that, despite her subject matter expertise, she could not keep writing good original content, both for her blog and her newsletters. So she found it necessary to permanently hire a part-time writing assistant, costing an additional $100 a month. She also noticed that traffic to her site immediately dropped when she stopped advertising, so she decided to keep a fixed monthly advertising budget. To make up for these, Sandra selectively signed up for various online affiliate programs and started a premium newsletter service.

Sandra’s blog is now close to two years old and it is popular enough to have a decent number of regular readers and subscribers. Despite its popularity, the blog is not making Sandra the money that she envisioned. By the end of the first year, the blog was only making around $200 a month from advertising, affiliate programs, and premium subscription; it is now up to around $550 per month. The blog is only costing Sandra approximately $200 a month to keep (for hosting, advertising, and paying a part-time writer), but she is spending close to six hours a day for work related to it. A simple cost-benefit analysis, considering how much Sandra could have earned as a part-time project manager, would show that the blogging venture is a failure.

Sandra’s case may be more common than we think. The good thing about Sandra is she tries to provide quality content for her readers and subscribers. A simple search of the blogosphere and the wider internet will show a lot of online money making schemes that promise a lot but provide very little tangible value for the internet consumer. We will give our $0.02 on these in our next post.

Posted in Blogging, Case Studies | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Blog carnivals

Posted by A Friend on 12 March 2009

Carnival Blog carnivals are blogging communities that regularly collect blog articles about a particular topic and publish magazine style blog posts that include links to all the collected blog postings. Each carnival edition is written and edited by a volunteer blogger. Some carnivals are maintained by just one or a few bloggers while others, in true carnival fashion, move from one blog to another per edition. Each blog carnival has its own publication frequency: some are published as often as once a week, but most have monthly editions.

Hosting an edition of a blog carnival is good for the volunteer blogger, if they have the time and inclination to do so. Bloggers recognize the effort required to produce just one edition of a blog carnival, so the host blogger generally gets a lot of goodwill from blogger contributors. Some contributors whose articles are included in the carnival may also write posts in their own blog about it, so the host blogger can potentially get a lot of visitors directed from other related blogs; and some of these visitors can become regulars.

For a blogger contributor, blog carnivals are a great way to get exposure into a wider audience; so a lot of bloggers are regular, enthusiastic contributors to blog carnivals. Hosts of more established carnivals would also generally be bloggers with an already established following, so click through traffic is almost guaranteed.

Take our blog for example. We have a very young blog, and we consciously decided that submitting articles to blog carnivals would be a great way for us to get our name out there. So far, we have two blog posts published in carnival editions: our post on personal responsibility was included in the February edition of the leadership development carnival, and our post on project signoff points was included in the 25th edition of the carnival of project management. These two posts currently have the highest individual page views in our blog.

But most importantly, blog carnivals are great for blog readers. Each edition of a blog carnival is generally a collection of the best individual blog posts on a particular topic. This is so because it is in the interest of blogger contributors to only submit their very best work, as this will often be the basis for the initial impression of first time visitors to their blog (not to mention that blog carnival editors generally only allow one contribution per blogger per edition). So the reader is virtually guaranteed of a good online yarn on their favorite topic!

To end this post, below are some active blog carnivals that you might be interested in:

    Carnival of Personal Development – blog carnival related to personal development, personal finance, and personal health
    Carnival of Project Management – blog carnival focused on program and project management
    Carnival of the Vanities – this blog carnival claims that no topic is off-topic, but only “superior posts” are accepted
    Carnival of Trust – blog carnival that broadly tackles “trust” as a principle in business and politics, among others
    Corporate Vigilance – blog carnival that spotlights the rights and the wrongs of the corporate world
    Customer Service Carnivale – blog carnival dedicated to helping business people become more aware of the importance of customer service
    Leadership Development Carnival – blog carnival related to leadership, management, executive development, coaching, human resources, succession planning, and organizational development
    Personal Power – blog carnival related to personal power, self development, motivation, and self improvement

We based the list on various search terms some of our visitors used to get to our blog, so we hope that you find at least some of them useful.

Posted in Blogging, WOTM | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

A personal leadership development framework

Posted by A Friend on 7 March 2009

In our previous post, we suggested that one reason why some good performers thrust into leadership positions fail is because they did not have the adequate preparation for their new roles. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations take leadership training and development for granted and often assume that promotion to leadership positions are a natural progression for good performers. As we illustrated in our post, this is not necessarily the case.

It thus often falls on individuals to ensure that they adequately prepare themselves for the challenge of leadership. But then, some may ask: if organizations still struggle with leadership development as a practice, what hope do individuals have of getting it right? We asked the same question ourselves and surprisingly, we found that it is easier for individuals than for organizations to get it right.

The reason is quite simple. The most mature and well-run organizational leadership development programs will never meet the leadership development requirements of every aspiring leader in the organization. These programs are designed to be generic enough for maximum applicability, so it has to be assumed that there will always be the odd and eccentric aspiring organizational leader that the program will fail; imagine if this odd person out is a CEO of the future. Individuals, on the other hand, can tailor fit their own leadership development program to well, themselves.

Below is a diagram of a framework we’ve developed for our own personal leadership development. The framework is designed to suit any individual circumstance, although we generally find it more useful if aligned with organizational objectives.

Personal Leadership Development Framework

The framework is divided into four main components (illustrated by the different color schemes of the eight general task items): lay the groundwork for leadership development, leadership development planning, implementation of the leadership development plan, and self reassessment. Below are brief descriptions of the eight task items.

Know and understand yourself

It is essential for any aspiring leader to have a good personal understanding of him or her self. This includes knowing areas of strength and weakness, and desires and aspirations. The aspiring leader should also try to understand their management, leadership, and communication style; and environments and situations when and where they are most effective.

It is an accepted but often neglected no-brainer that aspiring leaders who have a good understanding of themselves are more effective in mapping out their personal leadership development plans.

Study leadership

Aspiring leaders must at least be familiar with various leadership concepts and their application. Ideally, aspiring leaders should be up-to-date with leadership theory (e.g. they should know that save for few and far between specific cases, strong-arm or autocratic leadership styles are now generally accepted as ineffective).

This does not mean that aspiring leaders should blindly believe and follow every leadership trend that comes about, of course. Leadership theory is continuously evolving, and no model can be applied to all situations. The aspiring leader should study leadership theory and use it as a guide and starting point, not as an absolute prescription.

Find mentors and role models

It is important for aspiring leaders’ personal development to have mentors and role models that they can use as guides, motivators, and real life examples. One difficulty we have had in our own practice is finding mentors. Mentors may not necessarily be available in the workplace, and unless it is part of an organizational initiative, a formal mentorship program is very difficult to implement.

The aspiring leader should try to find alternative means, including informal mentorship. This can, for example, be done by forming personal relationships and actively networking (e.g. informal lunch or coffee every month) with leaders they look up to. Good leaders are generally generous with their time, and all that is often required is for the aspiring leader to ask.

Another alternative, or a complement, to mentorship is looking out for role models, especially those that the aspiring leader can most relate to. What is most important to note is, like leadership theory, aspiring leaders should mainly use mentors and role models for practical learning. It is dangerous for the aspiring leader to blindly pattern their own leadership development to their mentors and role models, and it is wise to remember that what works for the goose does not necessarily work for the gander.

Map out a personal development plan

Effective personal leadership development planning can only be done after the groundwork for leadership development had been properly laid. Personal development planning covers a range of topics and there are blogs out there that are almost exclusively devoted to this. The only points we want to focus on are the key personal development plan essentials, based on the framework we are suggesting. The aspiring leader should ensure that their plan is aimed to: further enhance key strengths, be aligned with personal desires and aspirations, address critical areas of weakness, and explore opportunities to apply learned leadership principles.

The plan, if at all possible, should also be aligned with organizational plan and objectives. Doing so makes it more convenient to implement, and has a higher likelihood of getting key organizational resources involved.

Involve others

Involving others in the execution of personal leadership development plans is an important cog of our proposed model, and what was left unsaid in the previous section is that aspiring leaders should strive to ensure that some, if not all, of the most important activities in their plans include the involvement of others.

Getting others involved is a less risky way of testing the often murky waters of relationship management. The only risk if things don’t go according to plan is some of the aspiring leader’s personal objectives are not met. That risk is worth taking if they are able to take away some key learning about how they work with others.

Another important consideration is the aspirants are the de facto leaders tasked to complete the plan, merely because the plan is theirs. Thus, if they ensure others are involved, they are in fact “practicing” leading them. And again, regardless of the result, they should be able to take away some key learning about how they lead others.

Objectively assess outcomes

The objective assessment of outcomes requires the aspiring leader to take a step back after tasks are completed and make an assessment of outcomes from the point of view of a third party observer. Objectifying the experience is essential to ensure that the succeeding analysis is as free from bias as possible.

To attempt to be objective while at the same time being intimately involved in the experience is a difficult task to do, but also a great regular exercise routine, for aspiring leaders. This is the kind of activity we do in a lot of the cases that we present here, so it might be a good idea to look at some of these cases.

Critically analyze outcomes

This goes hand in hand with the previous point: a critical analysis can only be done against an objectively assessed outcome. Critical analysis is needed for genuine learning to take place. This is when all of the takeaways are taken stock of and categorized as good, bad, or really ugly (the aspiring leader can, of course, use a less brutal assessment measure).

The really ugly results will almost require immediate remediation, as these will often be highlighted as unacceptable; the good and bad ones can be banked as part of experiential learning and often form the basis of self assessments and succeeding personal development plans.

Reassess yourself

Finally, this model requires continuous self reassessment. The end of each development cycle gives the aspiring leader the opportunity to review what was accomplished and what was not, measure their development plan against outcomes, and reflect on key learning.

The self reassessment might reveal some individual strengths further enhanced, key leadership traits discovered and developed, and conceptual understanding of leadership theory validated. It might also show more personal weaknesses not highlighted previously, some leadership models that are not compatible with the leadership aspirant’s own personality and style, and some relationship management shortcomings. In short, the reassessment should serve as platform for the next personal leadership development cycle and for the aspiring leader’s continued growth.

Posted in Career Management, Leadership & Management | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

When good performers fail as leaders

Posted by A Friend on 3 March 2009

Power Failure How often do we see some good performers in our organizations being rewarded with promotion into leadership positions only to see them struggle, even fail, in the performance of their new duties?

We find that there are generally two reasons for such failures. First of these is the often accepted view that not all good followers, performers, and managers can become great leaders. Good performance and management of tasks and people require a different skill and competency set to good leadership; some people just don’t have leadership in them.

Second, and perhaps a more subtle but fairly common reason, is a lot of our good performers are not being adequately prepared to take on future leadership roles. They are often thrust into leadership positions without undergoing the preparatory or molding process required to successfully take on such roles, and often because it is taken for granted that taking on the new roles are a natural progression. It is not.

Adrian, who had built a solid reputation as a consulting account manager with his strong ability to establish rapport with clients and continuously create repeat business, is a good example. He was recruited by an old colleague to join his startup consulting company to be its long-term account manager. It was projected that the startup was going to grow quickly as it already had a growing list of clients and projects in the pipeline.

Unfortunately, most of the projects in the pipeline, for various reasons, did not push through, and Adrian suddenly found himself with no accounts to manage. However, because of his long-established account management reputation, his new boss felt confident that he could be transitioned into becoming the company’s new national consulting manager, in charge of project delivery. Meantime, in the short term at least, Adrian could lead the company’s first few consulting projects.

Adrian’s first engagement as a project leader was disastrous. Adrian had very little experience as a consultant and had no experience at all as a project leader. He used a generic project plan to start with, and not only did he struggle to follow it, he found it impossible to adjust when the plan very clearly did not suit the project. His account management background made it very hard for him to decline customer requests, and this led scope creeping to uncontrollable levels. Most gallingly, he found it very difficult to manage his consultants. Having had little experience managing direct reports before, he had no idea what needed to be done, what his consultants were doing, and what they were capable of doing.

Adrian’s team resented his inability to produce a plan, set directions, and lead. The project struggled because of his shortcomings, and a lot of unhappy and extremely overworked consultants left after project completion. The project also ended up becoming Adrian’s first and only attempt at project leadership, and he was slowly eased back into account management, where he had always been very good at.

Debra’s case is a little different, but the end result is similar. Debra had been a career employee with a leading company in a highly regulated industry. She had worked for 15 years in the company’s purchasing and inventory management department before she was seconded into a project that implemented a large enterprise application. She became part of the retained support team post project implementation.

Most of Debra’s work in the retained support team was to address and manage change requests raised by the business. The support team was divided into various functional areas, and Debra continued to work in purchasing and inventory management. This was not a difficult task for her, as she had long been familiar with the business processes in this area. Furthermore, the company typically brought in external consultants when more complex requirements came up. In short, Debra’s work was not particularly challenging and she had a lot of time on her hands. For want of better things to do, Debra expressed her interest when the company made its annual call for employees who are interested in attending a company sponsored postgraduate scholarship.

Management mistook Debra’s boredom for ambition, and they decided to fast-track her into a prime leadership role. She was first given tasks to manage small internal projects, and she passed these with flying colors (thanks, in most cases, to the external consultants the company brought in to do the real work). She was then promoted to functional team manager. Debra is a very strong coordinator and organizer, so she handled this new role with aplomb as well.

Finally, less than two years removed from merely being a support officer, Debra was promoted to manager, enterprise applications. This was a group of more than 30 employees and five functional teams. And more than just handling support work, she suddenly became responsible for budgets, succession planning, and most especially setting the strategic direction for the group.

Debra struggled with her new responsibilities. She never had a budget to worry about before, and she had absolutely no idea where to start with the budgeting process. Her people management experience was limited to work coordination and managing expectations of her internal customers, so she struggled when she was suddenly required to look after and plan people’s careers. But most dreadful was her inability to think strategically. She had always relied upon people guiding her and had been great at performing the tasks assigned to her; but she had never been one who could provide guidance and direction.

Both Adrian and Debra are examples of great performers who suddenly struggled when they were thrust into leadership roles they did not have adequate preparation for. Unfortunately, there are a lot of organizations that assume leadership as a natural progression for good performers and take leadership development and training for granted. It thus often falls on employees to ensure that they prepare themselves for the challenge of leadership.

We will present a personal leadership development framework, which we have used in our own practice and hope others can also use in their own, in our next post.

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