Category Archives: BLOG

When did you last consider your ‘How’?

Dangerously Unaware

I was starting a new position and had heard about the General Manager’s reputation. He had grown up in his career running manufacturing facilities and had a tough-guy type of approach to leadership. In his new General Manager role, he was leading a corporate function, which required a different leadership style. I remember having that nervous-stomach feeling, not knowing what I was going to face when we met. I also remember fearing making a mistake because I didn’t know how he would react or how I should deal with him in those situations.

This tough guy leadership style permeated his subordinate and peer relationships, which began to create problems. He was not aware of the effects of his approach and had never really learned how to flex his leadership style for different situations or environments. Human Resources began to work with him to improve his interpersonal effectiveness.

Flip the Mirror

This is the time of year when managers sit down with employees to review their performance and set new goals for the coming year. Reviews include the achievement of hard goals and progress on areas of soft or technical skill development. Managers expect employees to take these reviews seriously, setting the direction for their focus and achievement during the year.

Leaders also need to take this annual review time seriously for themselves. Once they reach a certain level in their career, many leaders feel like they’ve learned all there is to learn and have it all figured out. Like making New Year’s resolutions each January, the annual review process is a good time to hit the reset button and take a fresh look in the mirror. Similar to my previous manager, many leaders are oblivious to the improvements they should make.

Most leaders work hard to meet their performance goals, the “what”, because they are rewarded on these goals. But, many often forget that the “how” also is a part of the leadership equation. “How” you lead is as important as, if not more important than, the performance goals you achieve today. Your “how” has a lasting impact on the people in the organization and their willingness and ability to contribute at their highest levels toward the success of the organization long-term. The ability to be an effective leader requires that you are aware of your natural tendencies, how to be flexible in the variety of situations you face, how to constructively influence others, and how to build a trusted and respected reputation that makes others want to follow.

Recharge Your ‘How’

The best way to recharge is to gain visibility into your areas of greatest opportunity. Make sure you’re open to feedback; nobody’s perfect. There’s always room for improvement. Be a lifelong learner.

  • Request 360° feedback from senior leaders, peers, subordinates and even external constituencies, such as customers or suppliers. Solicit feedback from people who will be honest, thoughtful, and detailed with examples. Promise that you will not retaliate, no matter what you hear. Make sure the process is objective and confidential.
  • Take advantage of assessments that provide objective insight into your behavioral style, motivations, leadership style, and business acumen. These assessments can pinpoint strengths and development areas, and suggest strategies to optimize them.
  • Thoughtfully assess yourself, but be honest. Reflect on “how” you accomplish your goals, your working relationships, your influence in the organization, and influence on subordinate or peer performance. Ask yourself, “What impact does my style have on my team’s ability to work well together and achieve our goals?”

As you review the feedback you receive, summarize the themes. What did you hear most frequently? What were people most passionate about? What surprised you?

Assessment is only the first step. The next step is to determine what actions you will take. Establish goals for the coming year that include “how” objectives and actions. Make a list of “stop”, “start”, and “continue” actions. An accountability partner, such as a mentor, can help you with specific development areas and give you objective feedback on your progress.

Time to recharge.

Sponsors: Your Career Game Changer

Women still struggle to get ahead.  That’s evident in the results of the recent Women in the Workplace Study* by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company.  The corporate playing field for women remains uneven.  The study* found that women’s experiences at work differ.  And, women question the fairness in opportunities in the workplace.

  • Only 44% of women think the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees
  • Only 54% of women think they have the same opportunity for growth as their peers
  • One-third of women think their gender will make it harder to get a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.

Will you sit back and wait for Human Resources to bring equity to the workplace?  Or, will you leverage the potential relationships around you to change the game for your career?

Sponsors: A Game Changer

Women are missing critical relationships that are needed to change the course of their careers. Women of color have an even greater challenge.  The leadership pipeline is dominated by males. And, women’s networks are not as fully developed among influencers in the organization.

Therefore, women need an advocate, known as a sponsor, who is in the inner circle of the people making and influencing talent decisions. A sponsor may speak up about you when potential job openings and talent discussions arise. However, if these influencers don’t know who you are, your track record, or what you’re capable of, then they can’t support you. 

Whether or not you have a sponsor depends a lot on what you do. So, how do you get a sponsor and how do you keep one?

Getting a Sponsor: Two Approaches

From leaders I’ve interviewed, there are two schools of thought on how to get a sponsor: earning a sponsor or requesting a sponsor.  Let’s see how these approaches work.

Earning a Sponsor

Some strongly stated you don’t ask someone to be a sponsor. Sponsors are earned. A sponsorship develops from interactions with you and consistent exposure to you that build trust in your ability and potential. Sponsorship grows from the human psychological response that builds as someone gets to know you, becoming comfortable and familiar with who you are and what you represent—your brand promise.  Sometimes, you may not even realize you have a sponsor. A sponsor can be aware of you without having a direct connection with you personally.

Requesting a Sponsor

Other leaders believe you should advocate for yourself and ask a specific leader to be a sponsor. You don’t just wait on the sideline to be put into the game. Let the coach know you’re ready and that you want in. If you use this approach, articulate where you’d like to go in your career, the skills you hold, the skills you’re building, and the track record of execution you bring to the table. However, only ask a leader who is familiar and comfortable with you. You don’t want to put someone in an uncomfortable position when they have doubts or questions about you. This issue is extremely delicate, so proceed with caution.

Begin Here: Build a Valued Reputation

Realize that the more people know about you, the more comfortable they will feel recommending you. Sponsors were instrumental in my career at Humana and GE.  However, I found that I had to do my part to build a reputation that leaders were willing to invest in and to market myself. You must do the same.

When sponsors recommend you, their necks are on the line. People who trust them trust their recommendations. You become a reflection on them. You owe it to them to do your very best. 

Once you’ve built a reputation others are willing to advocate for, determine which approach to getting a sponsor will work best for you. Consider your company’s culture, the type of relationship, how well the person knows you, and how you need his/her support.  Be thoughtful and purposeful through this process.

The choice is yours.  You can settle, or take steps to build the critical relationships that will change the game for your career.

* LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, 2016 Women in the Workplace Report

To find out more about sponsors and how to get them download this excerpt from Chapter 7 of my FuelForward® book.  Download here and accelerate your career moves up the corporate hierarchy.