Literal Thinking

Real stories of workplace follies

Archive for the ‘Career Management’ Category

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.


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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 »

The case of the pompous graduate

Posted by A Friend on 4 February 2009

Job Interview This is the second of a three-part series where we present short cases of spur of the moment statements made that led to unfavorable results taken from our own practice. The underlying theme of the series is some thoughts are just not meant to be spoken, even if these were true.

Erin is a graduate of one of the top universities in the country. Her school consistently makes it to the top of major placement surveys for graduates, and its graduates are often the first to be snared and given the highest starting salaries by the biggest companies in the region.

So Erin was very optimistic about her employment chances. She should be, considering that she already had three very positive employment interviews two months before she was to even officially graduate. But Erin did not want to be rushed into making a decision, and she told all three prospective employers that.

Erin received a few more interview offers in the succeeding months. She actually felt that she was offered more than she could reasonably handle, so she even found it necessary to politely turn down a few of the invitations. Of those that she attended, the result was largely positive. She had a couple of ordinary ones, but Erin thought that this was just part of the law of averages.

It was not until a month after graduation that Erin took job hunting more seriously. She started going for second interviews and began the arduous – it is, for in-demand graduates like her – task of sifting through some of her prospective employers. In the end, she chose three companies that she would be happy to work with.

One of these companies is a global IT services firm that is known for its popular two-year training program for its graduate recruits. The program starts with a three-month intensive course in its state-of-the art overseas training center. This is then followed by rotations in at least three different departments that graduates choose, based on their individual interests and competencies.

The prospect of attending this two year intensive course, plus the opportunity to have a “free” three-month overseas holiday, was greatly appealing to Erin. She only had two problems: (1) the company, of the three that she short-listed, offered the lowest starting salary; and (2) starting salaries are standardized, and Erin felt that she should at least receive some premium because she is a graduate of the best school.

In her final interview, Erin’s prospective manager told her that the company generally recruits 20 graduate trainees every year. The trainees come from at least five different schools, with only around ten per cent of these coming from Erin’s school. Erin found this piece of information a great negotiating platform for a better salary.

Erin told her prospective manager: “I understand that you standardize the salary package you offer your graduate recruits, but I strongly feel that you should give me a premium. Compared to the majority of your prospective recruits, I’ve had better training and preparation for work after graduation, considering that I come from a more reputable school.”

The look of disappointment on her prospective manager’s face could not be masked after Erin said this. The prospective manager said: “I would have considered any other reason you used to negotiate for a higher salary, but I cannot accept this. And I cannot accept someone who already feels she is superior to her prospective peers even before she gets to meet them, so I will also have to regretfully withdraw our employment offer.”

Once the shock of the message died down, Erin’s interviewer helpfully said that he is sure Erin would find good employment elsewhere. He said that his withdrawal of the offer was more to hammer the point about humility and learning how to communicate properly. It is one thing to feel confident about one’s abilities, but it is another thing to pompously verbally communicate such confidence.

Posted in Career Management, Case Studies, Communication | Tagged: | 5 Comments »