2018 Will Be The Year of Career Growth & Heightened Leadership
Promotions into positions of greater authority (and compensation) can seem exciting and inviting to most of us. The challenge that most don’t consider however is that promotions also come with far greater responsibility and require strong personal and professional values, which can also be a challenge for some! Furthermore, the challenge with values such as respect and courage is that different people interpret them differently based on their values, beliefs and behaviors! And because they’re too ambiguous and open to interpretation, instead of uniting us, they can create friction.
People often try to move quickly to find the fastest path to promotion with better income before doing the homework to verify that they’ll actually be happy with the newly applied for position, the responsibility and accountability. As an organization we value a variety of experiences and a well rounded background and experience in all of the core areas of our business (*See 7 Key Leadership Skills), but does the speed of breadth create a lack of focus if rushed through the core professional leadership skills and experience?
Wanting success and fast growth is a natural impulse. In this age of Moneyball and big data, why not pursue the next greatest open position now rather than waiting to master the position you’re in? The problem is that the leadership and professional stability in performance doesn’t really work that way. There are too many variables in moving farther fast, many of them beyond your control, including luck, timing and personal chemistry with new teams and colleagues in a new position.
The career trajectories of the rising stars that I’ve ‘patiently promoted’ and those I’ve interviewed are so varied that spotting trends is difficult; and a surprising number of the over-achievers and high performance professionals don’t fit common stereotypes of straight-A students, natural talents and hyper-focused influencers and performers who seemed destined to move higher in the professional arena and maybe even to run a big company someday. I’ve met future leaders in our industry that started out in theatre, alternate retail, architecture and sales with seemingly no connection to hospitality and the hard work and sacrifice required to become successful in our space. Others had surprisingly low grades in school and tough childhoods with every reason to feel that they’d never become more capable to become an executive that they would to win the lottery!
So what explains it? Are there some qualities — beyond the obvious, like hard work and perseverance — that explain why those who rise to new positions and responsibilities ultimately got the nod for new positions, promotions and even the top jobs in the companies they work for?
In the years I’ve run organizations & promoted more than 200 leaders into new positions, I’ve noticed three consistent traits and themes in those who prepare themselves for the responsibilities of promotion first!
The First Key, they share a habit of mind that is best described as “engaged curiosity.” That being that they tend to question everything around them. They want to know how things work, and consistently ask themselves what they can do to make them work better. They’re also curious about team chemistry, individual team members and their back-stories. As arguably the main responsibility of great leaders is to understand, manage, inspire and develop people, this is key to any position of influence!
Future leaders also rarely wonder if they are on the right career path, they instead make the most of whatever path they’re on and focus on learning lessons from all their experiences in their current position. *They also make a priority of being the very best among their peers in the position that they currently hold!
A key indicator of future leaders is that they find interest in many different things and aspects of their people and work environment and try to put their learning and observations to work in a positive way, connecting the dots and considering how the pieces fit together.
The Second Key, team members and future leaders love and embrace a challenge. In fact, discomfort IS their comfort zone. Typically high potential achievers and leaders like investing their time on the organizational challenges. They like to get close to the fire and feel the heat, which pushes them (they push themselves) to get better and get uncomfortable. In running organizations for more than 25 years, I’ve noticed that some people have a desire to live in the discomfort zone, but most don’t. If you tend to naturally gravitate to the fire, that’s a good sign for your future. For those who wait for others to do for them and ask rather than “action”, the road to promotion and opportunity are typically a longer wait and process. In the end, I believe that’s a characteristic that you have, and that’s typically in your DNA or it isn’t.
The Third Key is how they manage their own careers on their way up. High potential performers again, focus on doing their current job well and even better than anyone anywhere within the organization in their position, and that single focus and drive earns them promotions. This may sound obvious, however many in my experience that desire promotions seem more concerned about the job they want rather than the job they’re currently in and reviewed upon by their direct report.
That said, this doesn’t mean keeping ambition in check. By all means, every professional must have career goals, share them with your bosses, and learn everything you can about how our broader business works. And yes, be savvy about company politics – and beware in particular of those who take responsibility for nothing when failure occurs and take credit for everything in success.
What successful growth leaders do is to focus on building a track record of success, as they know that in doing so, others will keep betting on your continued success. Those who succeed in the end don’t focus on HOW they climb the organizational ladder; they create opportunities that allow them to be lifted up the ladder by those who see how they’re contributing to the success of others and of the organization!
The Most Important Thing About Leadership, Part I
Senior level and executive leadership is much more difficult than most understand, and there will always be someone who tells you, “here’s the one thing you need to know.” Such to good to be true advice is the professional banner ad of business websites. If only it were that simple. But one thing isn’t necessarily more important than another. And as any of you who manage people understand, managing multiple people in the different ways that they respond to is complicated; leadership isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ skill set. It’s far better to think of and practice your leadership methods as a series of paradoxes. Top leaders for example, need humility to know what they don’t know, but have the confidence to make a decision amid the ambiguity. A bit of chaos can help foster creativity and innovation, but too much chaos creates anarchy. Effective leaders must be empathetic and care genuinely care about their teams and organization, but they must also be willing to let them go if they’re toxic, negative and dragging down their teammates. Future leaders must create a culture of a sense of urgency in performance, but also have the patience to bring everybody on the team along at the pace that each of them has as individuals.
In coaching and developing many individuals and organizations over the years, my core strategy has been to look at values in pairs, and there is a tension or a balance between them. One of the keys in doing so is to focus on and become a Master Listener and an ‘Ethereal Leader & catalyst’ as those of you who have read my book know. The duality of the key traits of – accountability and consideration; humility and audacity; commanding performance and generosity. Great leaders have the humility to see the world as it is — and in our world, working with the most demanding consumers in the world, that’s not easy to do — our best leaders must have the audacity to know why our primary goal is to elevate Quality, Service & Team Performance in spite of the challenges and hurdles in our way by consistently imagining and testing to create the future of private aviation catering and concierge services!
So what are the essential qualities for those who want to evolve, develop and rise within the organization. Though I believe the global standard of great leaders are a balanced blend of character, attitude, contribution, an authentic love of seeing others grow and commanding top performance rather than single personal or professional attributes, I do want to mention a few that are the magic ingredients in the recipe of leadership success!
If you asked me to rank the most important qualities of effective leadership, I would put trustworthiness at the top. As without trust, there is no teamwork.
We all have a gut sense of our bosses, based on our observations and experiences: Do we trust them to do the right thing? Will they be straight and open with us (whether in praise or in command of performance needs) and not mask the truth? Do they own their mistakes; give credit where credit is due; care about their teams as people as opposed to assets? Do they “complain up” but manage down as well as up? If you want to lead others, you’ve got to have their trust, and you can’t have their trust without integrity.
A parallel to trustworthiness is how much you respect the people who work for you. There can be no leadership without followers, and leaders are only as good as their followers. In my experience, the quality of the followers is in direct correlation to the respect you hold them in. It’s how much they respect you that’s most important. It’s actually how much you respect them; that is the essence of a culture in any organization!
Organizational Culture dictates whether a company is successful or not. And those promoted for the good of the organization are the ones who create it by creating the cultural expectations and holding those values at the heart of the organization. When our leaders ensure that their followers are always those who ‘believe what we believe’ the culture thrives. As our teams see who succeeds and fails in the organization, this defines our culture. The people who succeed become role models for what’s valued in the organization, and that defines the core culture within the organization. Too many see people leaving the organization as a negative, when in fact; departures actually increase when a focused cultural shift is underway! Great organizations don’t release people out of vanity, vengeance or irresponsible behaviors of their leaders; they do so to find the right cultural fits for the organization!
In my experience as a consultant and executive in many organizations around the world that it’s a required cultural process and rite of passage as many companies evolve, to reset the culture to one that is healthy, wholesome, aligned and balanced with positive leaders across all departments, regions and departments. At a not to distant time, our leadership team will go through the exercise of defining a set of values to shape the culture of our company. These values can initially seem random — lengthy or brief, predictable or quirky. But the exercise will raise an obvious question: Are there best practices that we should be using that we’re not?
Over the years, I’ve noticed patterns in recalibrating core values for organizations;
Shorter is better than longer. In fact, when I’ve asked clients and chief executives about their companies’ values in the past, it’s not unusual for them to struggle to remember them if there are more than five bullet points. And if the boss can’t remember them, will anyone else? NO.
The Core Focus in Creating Leadership Values-
- Values need reinforcement beyond repetition. Many companies, for example, make their values part of the hiring and firing process, and hand out awards to people who bring the values to life.
- A healthy and powerful culture is almost like a religion. People buy into it and they believe in it. And you can tolerate a little bit of heresy, but not a lot.
- The best cultural lists are the behaviors you want to cultivate within every area and location of the organization. The challenge with values like respect and courage is that everybody interprets them differently. They’re too ambiguous and open to interpretation. Instead of uniting us, they can create friction.
In the end, future potential leaders have to be open and alert at every turn to the possibility that you’re about to learn the most important lesson of your life with every interaction and opportunity you have to learn and grow, as ‘training’ is always happening and isn’t defined by a classroom.
We as is the case with all organizations, must understand that just as not everyone can be managed the same way, there are also differences in the way leaders lead. However, what seems to be more critical in my experience over the past decade as Millennials have become the majority of our workforce, they are more likely to be driven by other factors, like whether their leaders are introverts or extroverts, more analytical or creative, whether they have a sense of humor and confidence; and even whether they grew up in a large or small family.
In the end however, future leaders must set a vision for the team and brand, build cultural set points and foster a sense of teamwork while making the tough calls where necessary. All of that requires balancing the endless paradoxes of leadership, and doing it in a way that inspires trust within teams.
I Have Just One Critical Question for Each of You Who Want to Rise & Succeed Within Organizations & Communities-
How & Who do you Partner with or Hire?
Who you hire may be the greatest determining factor of whether you’re ultimately a leader that grows or goes within the ACW organization! A big surprise in researching what works here has been different answers I’ve heard to the simple question I’ve posed to many leaders within our organization: What questions are you asking to ensure the fit of team members to ensure a fit in work-ethic, teamwork, responsibility, enthusiasm, energy and skills?
A basic question I always ask at the operations level of candidates is…’Are you smart enough to avoid hard work or do you work hard while using intelligence?’ (Yes, the right answer – You want smart-hard workers) – but you’d be amazed how many people have answered over the years – ‘I don’t need to work hard, I’m smart.’ Really? Humility and reality is an important metric of whether you’re hiring candidates that are going to make your team and you successful!
Believe me when I tell you that the interviewing for new hires (and the final decision to hire) is the key skill set and action-step that best determines our success as an organization! Team members/Candidate’s creativity is no doubt born of necessity, and they’re well versed in anticipating the usual questions — “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?” — we must create more revealing questions to get around the polished facades of the antiquated questions that we’ve all become accustomed to over the years.
I want to know how willing people are to really talk about themselves. So if I ask you, what are the qualities you like least and most in your parents? – You might bristle at that, or you might be very curious about it, or you’ll just literally open up to me. And obviously if you bristle at that, it’s too vulnerable an environment for you, as one example. I’ll let our human resources team debate whether such a question is out of bounds. But I’m hard pressed to think of a better crystal ball for predicting how somebody is likely to behave in the weeks, months and years after you hire them. After all, people often adopt the qualities of their parents that they like, and work hard to do the opposite of what they don’t like. When I ask executives how their parents have influenced their leadership style, I often hear powerful themes that carry through their lives and careers.
The response received from one memorable candidate, “I grew up in a big Italian family – fighting and being loud at the kitchen table was normal – I didn’t realize when you went to somebody else’s house they didn’t argue about something – So I love what I always call creative tension with my teammates.”
This candidate added: “I like having a good debate. At first, people think that’s combative. But I really want to hear if you have a different opinion. There has to be enough trust to do that.” So how would this be received if you didn’t know that about the candidate when they started working for us?
Some may disagree, but the main trait we want in our candidates is a strong work ethic. We want people who have charted a path for themselves to make things work with the situations they’ve been faced with. Those who didn’t feel victimized by a tough challenge or stretching themselves. And they’re confident & proud. Our best team members sacrifice and don’t see themselves as victims, or sacrifice because it’s the right thing to do for their teammates and have pride in doing so. This is all the difference in choosing the right team member. Simple thing. Huge difference. This one trait and quality is one I’ve always admired in people in our industry. They own their job, whatever it is.
In terms of what this means for your culture, it means that if you as a leader push yourself out there and you see people and do things and participate and get involved, something happens within them. Leaders who are ready for future opportunities never assume that they can predict what experiences will teach them the most about what they value, or what their personal and professional life should be. Top leaders must be open and alert at every turn to the possibility that you’re about to learn the most important lesson of your life.
I hope this provides you all with a little inspiration, a little extra perspiration and inspires you to learn how to be better leaders. It’s not easy, but the ripple effects of thoughtful leadership are worth the effort! And as we move into 2018 with a new year, new possibilities and a new chapter of potential success and growth, this is your opportunity to determine where you’ll be when 2019 arrives!
We wish you all a Happy New Year and wish you the very best in the year ahead — and may 2018 be the very best year for you in every endeavor and at every turn!
Happy New Year!