“Must have” skills to get to the corner office

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Throughout this series, we have explored a wide range of skills that are integral to performing well at the executive level.  Think of these as positive lessons.  There is much to be learned, however, by watching weak (to downright awful) executives at work.  Think of these as the executive you never want to be.  Look around; they’re out there.

Although it might be surprising, negative lessons have a way of resonating and reminding over the long term, perhaps serving as a guide to keep high potential executive candidates from wandering too far off the path.  Since careers are long and the executive journey often includes many challenges, regular reminders and “check ins” are a good thing.  Think of it as taking the time to gauge we’re you’re at and adjusting, as required.

One of the benefits of not being at the top of an organization is having a ringside seat to watch those who are.  Make this time worth your effort, by learning from both good and bad leaders.  Here’s a rundown of what you can learn from the “anti-bench strength” bunch.

Where it Goes Wrong (and Wrong, and Wrong)

Although there are lots of negative “leadership” examples, there are some fundamental types that you never want to emulate. See how many you can recognize from your career travels thus far.

  • Not sharing the wealth: From taking credit for the ideas of others to making sure that team members never see the limelight for a job well done, these people seem to hold the view that anything (and everything) good that happens in an organization is because of them. Team members might let this behavior go by a time or two, but after that, it too often becomes apparent t hat this type of person is no better than a thief!
  • Not having your back: This person gives the reassured impression that they’re “right behind you” and “on your side”, only to mysteriously evaporate at the first sign of trouble. Loyal to no one but themselves and always looking for opportunities, they’re like that person at a cocktail party who’s scanning the room while they’re supposed to be talking to you! Bottom line, this person can turn on a dime and cannot be counted on for support.
  • Not minding their own business: Simply put, this person meddles in the work of others to no end.  Instead of providing executive support, guidance, and direction when needed, they barge in where they aren’t needed; a disruptive force that, in time, runs the very real risk of creating a dependency between the organization and themselves, making the decision making ability of anyone else obsolete.
  • Not resolving problems: When difficulties arise in an organization, the staff group counts on management to resolve the issue; good leaders understand this.  Executives who kick the can down the road or listen to valid staff member concerns, but fail to take action can quickly lose the confidence of others.  Staff members eventually come to recognize that the leader “won’t do anything about it”, resulting in disappointment, a lack of respect, and, often, departure.
  • Not the learning type: If smart executives understand that knowledge is power and continuous learning at all levels is an investment, weak executives live with their head in the sand.  Put off by smart and keen staff members, this person would rather limit their knowledge, claiming that they “know enough” or that their business “isn’t that complicated”.  Organizations led by this type of person tend to become isolated, antiquated, and stuck in routines.  Over time, they often lose their market position, due to leadership that resists what’s needed in order to keep up with those who know better.
  • Not a nice person: Although it’s true that people can work together without really liking each other, on some level, the most basic of respect and decency are required to develop a relationship that can generate success.  Leaders who are rude, insensitive, or just plain unpleasant to be around are ultimately unable to generate loyalty, no matter how well they do their job in technical terms (and competency is no excuse for bad behavior).  Over time, staff members move on and word gets around that this is a person best left on their own, as it should be!

Although many executives who exhibit these behaviors thankfully don’t last long, enough time often passes for damage to be done; to companies, people, and sometimes, even more.  Using interactions with weak leaders to your benefit is extremely worthwhile, as each lesson is a valuable one.

You have the opportunity to chart the career path you’d like to travel.  Take the time to think about the type of leader you truly want to be, in terms of how you approach and conduct your role.  Technical ability aside (knowing how to do the job is a given), when you think of a leader, who do you see?

The reality is, successful executives know that they are always on the path of their journey and never quite at their destination.  There is much to learn, practice, and do, so take each step out to the very edge of your ability.

High Performance Teams

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It’s been said that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.  This statement has never been truer than in today’s business world.  As our global environment continues to grow and becomes increasingly complex, so must the many companies that seek to meet the needs of customers and stay ahead of the competition; in the absence of doing so, they will cease to be relevant.  As a result, leading businesses must continuously improve what they do and develop and offer the products and services that best fit with a rapidly changing world and ever discriminating consumer.  There’s no doubt that a high level of bench strength is required in order to do so.

Seasoned executives recognize that one of the most powerful components for generating success is a high calibre team, both at a senior level and throughout an organization.  It is through great minds, creativity, and heartfelt commitment that teams can soar to achieve uncommon things, to the benefit of the company and the consumers that they serve.  In these types of situations, barriers are overcome, new ways to do things are found, and true market leaders are made.  Team members recognize the unique component that they bring, and have the right attitude for encouraging the success of others, realizing that empowered groups can truly achieve more than individuals.  What is critical, however, is a talented leader to bring it all together.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of skills, including generating results, role engagement, and professional development.  Here’s more about why successful executives understand how critical it is to surround themselves with high calibre people, always.

Where it Goes Wrong

One of the biggest threats to putting together a high calibre team is ego, closely followed by insecurity; there’s really no other way to say it.  When business leaders take the focus away from what’s in the best interest of the company and instead dwell on their own personal needs, making the right decisions can become elusive.  This is best illustrated by asking the question “why wouldn’t a business leader want to be surrounded by the absolute best people they can find?”  The answer, too often, relates to their own personal issues.

Although it might seem exciting to have a group of less accomplished people take direction and follow without question, this situation can quickly run its course, especially when competitive challenges, risks, and complicated issues arise (and, they will.  This is the business world!).  A loyal, but poorly equipped team of can quickly end up over its head, with few resources that have the capability to help the company survive the situation.  It’s at times like this when a business leader might look around and see lots of faithful colleagues, but little in the way of actual help.  And, as the ship slowly sinks, the realization that leadership is often judged by results brings into clear focus that success in business is much more about meeting customer needs than personal ones.

Striving for success on an individual level might be what’s needed to make career progress; however, the senior leadership level is much more about assembling a stellar team and working effectively to generate results.  Here’s how to shift your mindset and get started:

  • Define your strengths. Recognize what your best talents are and articulate them well, as this knowledge will help to identify your best team role. This is no different than determining if you play best at forward, defence, or “in net”.  Make a commitment and move forward from there.
  • There is no “I” in TEAM. Perhaps a cliché, but it’s true.  Being successful as a high calibre team member is understanding what your strengths are and bringing them into the group.  Integrate, participate, collaborate, and achieve results, together.
  • Focus on the business perspective.  Objectives should be derived from what’s in the best interest of the company, and this generally comes from what customers and the marketplace want and need.  Position the business for success and then focus on getting there, without interference from the inside.
  • Recognize the learning benefits. Being in a room with lots of smart and accomplished people is a great learning opportunity, and the knowledge that you gain is portable and can be taken wherever you go.  Think about it: spending your career years in a learning environment is so much better than the alternative.
  • Soar.  Perhaps, the greatest feeling in the business world: supreme success! Earn it, live it, enjoy it, and then, repeat.  This is what successful companies (and teams) do.

The day will come when you will be looking back on your career, instead of looking forward.  Ask yourself what you most want your achievements to reflect.  If real success is at the top of the list, chances are, it will only be achieved if you are able to be part of a “super smart” team that will challenge its members in the spirit of getting to the best result.  If you’ve been there, you wouldn’t have missed it for anything else.

Market Focus

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As much as executives have to manage what’s going on inside a company, external developments and the environment at large are at least as important, if not more.  If being in business is all about developing and delivering products and services, it is the marketplace (including customers and competitors) that makes this effort relevant.  Think about it; in the absence of a customer need for a particular product or service, businesses really don’t have much to offer.  Similarly, the presence (or absence) of competitors can also determine whether or not a company has a meaningful market opportunity.  This reality should be a humbling reminder for all executives.

Successful business leaders know that it’s critical to pay close attention to what’s going on outside of their company; committing at least 50% of their time to keeping a close eye on the external environment.  This includes monitoring things like customer preferences and demand levels, competitive developments, and emerging trends on a number of fronts, including consumer behavior, product development, regulatory matters, technology, and economic conditions.  Staff members at a less senior level might think that these areas don’t have much to do with “making the product”, but in fact, it is the marketplace that should drive a company’s internal efforts.  Afterall, what is the value of a product or service that no one wants, is obsolete, or readily available through multiple sources?

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of skills, including, risk management, generating results, and communication.  Here’s more about why successful executives understand the importance of integrating an external focus into their perspective.

Where it Goes Wrong

Companies have a tendency to get caught up in internal matters, including roles, staffing, and “the way we do things around here”.  Another area where businesses often spend a lot of time (and in many cases, too much time) is in contemplating the products and services that they deliver, particularly when technology is involved.  Although having great products and services is important, the level of effort in this area can at times far exceed what is actually required, often due to the natural passion so often associated with invention, as well as this area being at the core of how many businesses were founded.  Couple this with attention grabbers such as personalities, politics, and other people related issues and the risk of distraction from what really matters can soar.

When business leaders spend too much time focusing on the company and don’t pay enough attention to the external marketplace, they run the very real risk of the business veering off course and becoming out of step with the needs and expectations of customers.  In addition, less attention is paid to competitive and other market developments, which can result in displacement of position, as well as a decreasing relevance to customers.  And make no mistake, this can happen quickly!

Learning how to take a balanced perspective, including both internal and external viewpoints, takes practice and can be a significant shift from that of less senior roles, where the focus is typically more internal.  Here’s how to start developing the ability to have a greater external focus:

  • Understand the meaning of “industry”. An industry is a segment of the economy, where a company operates in its broadest sense, and is typically considered on a global or continental level.  Although some might ask “how does what’s going on half-way around the world impact my business?”, it actually does, particularly in terms of consumer and technological trends and developments.  Learn about the industry in which your company operates and monitor developments on a regular basis.
  • Understand the meaning of “market”. The market is the next level down from the industry, and often encompasses the area within which a company operates on a national or regional basis. Closer to home, developments are very relevant, particularly in terms of competitors and customer preferences.  Within markets, companies can chart an expansion strategy.  Consider this in the context of your business.
  • Articulate the target market.  The target market includes potential and current customers, and businesses need to have a strong understanding of developments and attitudes towards the company.  Know who your target market is, the potential for growth, and the level of satisfaction with your company’s products and services.
  • Stay connected with customers. Finding ways to connect with customers on a regular basis is a great way to integrate an external focus into your role.  Customer service calls, surveys, appreciation events, and seminars/training can be great ways to interact, receive feedback, and “be seen”.  Make a conscious effort to be active within your company’s customer base.
  • Get involved on an external level. Taking an active role in industry or community associations, participating in events, and networking help to keep the level of internal focus in check and provide a different perspective. Seek out these opportunities and choose wisely.

Over time, it’s not uncommon to notice a shift in terms of how time is spent and the increased external perspective that is generated.  A balanced approach is powerful, so make a real effort to “look out the window” every day.

Generating Results

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Although it’s true that executive level roles have a greater strategic focus and are further away from the front line action, senior level people still have to be able to get things done.  Whether it’s helping a management team to solve problems, identifying an expansion path, or overseeing core business activities, executives are accountable for (and often judged by) results.  This is not an easy place to be, particularly in times of change or declining performance.

So, if people at the senior level of an organization are less involved in front line work, how do they get things done?  The answer might be as simple as comparing a successful executive to one who is less accomplished in this regard; think: sound planning and direction; ensuring that a company has the right systems in place that allow staff and management team members to do more; generating a motivating environment; and, of course, having all of the right skills on hand.  This could be described as a “gentle push”, that allows a company to move forward with decisive support, as opposed to stagnating or being plagued by indecision.  Smart executives know that getting things done is, in part, about decision making, but also about having the necessary experience and judgement to make good decisions.  It is this ability that fuels the critical act of implementation and the results that follow.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of skills, including collaboration, professional development, and generating respect.  Here’s more about why successful executives understand the importance of implementation and getting things done.

Where it Goes Wrong

Executives who lose focus on the importance of generating tangible results might find themselves on the outside of relevance.   Whether leading a for-profit business or managing the limited resources of a not-for-profit organization, results and productivity matter.  Those who spend too much time on unfocused or theoretical efforts run the risk of leading an organization to a point where it will ultimately do less; this is the risk of becoming too far removed from the front line work.

Before too long, organizations can start to have a lack of urgency; a dangerous place to be in a competitive, and resource constrained world.  What doesn’t get done today gets put off until tomorrow, as the weeks and months go by with little achievement in the way of tangible results.  From a customer standpoint, who wants to deal with these companies?

Ensure that upward mobility on the career path includes sufficient focus on turning the wheels of productivity.  Here’s how to keep focused on generating results:

  • Use meeting time wisely. Meetings should be used to communicate important information, seek input, confirm action items, and move forward.  In order to ensure that the focus is kept on getting things done (and not just talking about it!), meet only when needed, maintain focus by using agendas and action items, and curtail non-productive chit chat.
  • Pay attention to standards and systems. Although some might consider processes and standardized approaches to be mundane, remember that they not only benefit the company, but also those who perform well enough to meet or exceed targets. Use standards and systems as an opportunity to accelerate performance.
  • Measure and monitor results.  Once standards are in place, they have to be managed, which means measuring actual results to target and taking corrective action where required.  Those who have the discipline and talent to do so are well regarded by the senior ranks.
  • Compensate based on results. Structures that include a meaningful variable component tied to performance tend to focus people’s efforts on what’s important.  Good compensation structures include short term and long term incentives, as well as measures for individual, departmental, and organizational performance.  Roles that are structured in this manner can be a good opportunity for those on the way up to demonstrate their worth in tangible terms.
  • Watch competitors and the marketplace. Paying attention to what’s going on in the outside world can be an important reminder that organizations need to take action in order to remain relevant to those that they serve. Remembering that any organization should be thinking about customers, competitors, and markets at least 50% of the time can help to instill a results oriented mindset.

The reality is that the more senior a position becomes, the more directly accountable it is for the performance of the entire organization, which, in turn, reflects how well the actual job is conducted.  This is a significant shift from that of less senior roles, so the sooner that the “results” skillset is developed, the better.

Respect

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Being a leader means many things: having the necessary expertise to perform your role, overseeing the efforts of others, with a balance of support and direction; and fostering an environment that allows people and the organization to perform at their very best.  This is a tall order for any executive, and at the end of the day, real success is only generated in situations where a leader is able to provide compelling reasons for others to follow, as well as fulfill their role.

An integral part of this process is generating respect, not just in how an executive performs in their role, but also in terms of how they treat others.  This doesn’t mean behaving in a manner designed to win a popularity contest (being an executive often involves making decisions that might not be particularly popular); but rather, approaching a leadership role in a fair and balanced way and with respect.  Although executive workdays are often characterized by too much to do and too many requests to do even more, successful executives recognize that they are always “on” and how they approach their role and interact with others is in full display at all times.  Yes, living in the executive fishbowl can be a lot to handle.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of skills, including collaboration, risk management, and professional development.  Here’s more about the importance of developing and maintaining respect at the executive level.

Where it Goes Wrong

Although there are leaders out there who can generate results by using less than desirable tactics (think fear, intimidation, and other forms of pressure), this approach is far from acceptable and is not sustainable in the long run.  After all, who wants to work for these people?  The reality is that everyone in an organization has an important job to do, and companies need people at all levels; this means that all roles are deserving of respect, provided that they are conducted in a respectful manner.

Executive roles, by their very nature, typically impact a wide range of people, both inside and outside of a company.  Those who don’t take the time and effort (or don’t have the skills) to treat others in a consistently respectful manner ultimately take more from an organization than they provide.  It doesn’t mean that the parties have to like each other; but staff members, as an example, need to know that a leader will view business situations in a fair manner, be humane, and not bring personal bias into the mix.  Having said that, those who approach planning for an executive role thoughtfully have the opportunity to bring so much more to a leadership role.

Generating respect from others is something that won’t happen overnight, which is one of the reasons why it is so important to adopt the right mindset now to ensure great preparation in advance of stepping into an executive role.  Here’s how to get started:

  • Keep a long memory. You should be able to relate to many of the people in your workplace by virtue of having held less senior roles earlier in your career.  By never forgetting the issues relating to those roles and what was important at that moment in time, you will be in a better position to relate to those who are currently in the job.
  • Practice empathy. Remember the human aspect of any organization. Simply put, people are people; they have the same kinds of hopes, dreams, and feelings deep down that many of us do.  A big part of respect is treating people humanely, regardless of the situation at hand.  Even in bad times, people will remember those who treated them with grace and respect.
  • Put things in context. Not everything in business life is critical, but many things are important.  Let recognizing situations for what they are and not overreacting be your norm.  Taking the time to fully consider the situation and reacting in a professional and pragmatic manner can help to generate respect.
  • Do your job well. Competence is important in generating respect, as it’s difficult to look up to someone if they aren’t very good at what they do. Respect isn’t about high-fives and fist-bumps around the office; it has many layers and is far more complex than that.  Be the person who can always be counted on to get the job done.
  • Pay careful attention to role models. Observing experienced executives in terms of how they handle all types of situations and the human element throughout is a great way to learn; both in terms of the leader you want to be and behaviors you never want to repeat. Well respected executives are easy to spot.

Remember that respect is a two way street; you have to give it to earn it, and around it goes.  At the end of a difficult day, you will be glad that you have this important skill in your corner.

Collaboration

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Career advancement at any level typically involves generating success on both a personal and team level.  As positions become more senior, the collaborative and team component can become much more significant, in terms of the amount of time spent and the degree of complexity of the task at hand.  Smart executives know how to bring the right expertise to a team situation, both in terms of their own skills and drawing on the abilities of others to generate a great result.

On this basis, it stands to reason that there is a need to bring together a wider range of skills and expertise to address issues encountered at the executive level, rather than relying on the power of one.  It’s not surprising that the ability to work well on a team and collaborative level can be the difference between moving up to the executive ranks and staying in a position that doesn’t involve as much of this type of work.  This is only one of the reasons why it’s important to start practicing these important skills now, as experience can contribute greatly to developing talent as a collaborator.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of skills, including professional development, communication, and managing people.  Here’s more about the why the ability to collaborate and be an effective team member are so important at the executive level.

Where it Goes Wrong

Those who are able to excel in the executive ranks understand that success generated as a team reflects well on both the group and its individual participants; this is a great reason to get involved and make your best effort.  There can be a fine line, however, between successful collaboration and taking too much personal ownership of the result.  Inappropriate behavior includes poor preparation, not seeing the perspectives of other team members, over (or under) contributing, and even taking credit for the ideas of others (yes, it happens).

The result can range from teams that don’t function well enough to accomplish much, to hard feelings between individuals.  Any way you look at it, this doesn’t bode well for a harmonious and effective work environment on a day-to day basis (and may explain why difficult team members are sometimes shuffled off to other tasks with little explanation).  Don’t let this happen to you!

Collaboration is both a state of skill and a state of mind.  Do it well, and you might just find yourself being approached to contribute to all kinds of initiatives, and that’s a great way to practice and network at the same time.  Here’s how:

  • Do the preparation. In order to give full attention and participation to team sessions, it’s important to be well prepared in advance (don’t consider meeting time as an appropriate place for speed reading of background materials!).  Be prepared to participate fully and take a leadership role where possible.
  • Be careful with “alliances”. Day-to-day working relationships can turn into informal alliances between individuals to move initiatives ahead. This type of situation can be tricky, as complex business problems often require a better level of objectivity to resolve.  Be sure to enter team sessions with an open mind to find the most favourable solution.
  • Listen and learn. Moments of team member contribution is not a time to “zone out”(look around the room at your next meeting and gauge the number of people who are actually listening to what is being said).  Make an active and deliberate effort to listen to the perspectives of others and learn.
  • Keep an eye on the big picture. Collaborative sessions can involve a lot of details, particularly in terms of problem solving and implementation.  Be sure to keep the “big picture” mandate of the team in mind to ensure that the process and your contributions are on point.
  • Share the wealth. Make the effort to give credit where credit is due and don’t ever take personal acknowledgement for the achievements of the team or contributions of others. These missteps do not go unnoticed and can generate a lack of respect that can be difficult to overcome.

Think about it: we learned most of what we need to know about collaboration at a very young age; play nicely with others, wait your turn, listen, learn, don’t be a copycat, and celebrate the accomplishments of others.  Some lessons are effective well into the future, so pull up your socks and start collaborating!

Human Resources Management

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Although most jobs involve working with others, the complexity associated with people only increases when you enter the executive ranks.  Think about it: gone are the days when you just have to co-exist with co-workers, as executives are typically faced with people related responsibilities and relationships that are multifaceted.  In addition to the typical co-worker type relationship, add motivation, performance management, recruitment/termination, and broader supervision to the mix.  These areas must be considered in the context of senior level roles that can have a significant impact on an organization (good or bad), complex tasks, and perhaps a limited talent pool from which to draw candidates.  Given the circumstances, the human resource aspect of an executive role is one that often doesn’t get the attention that it should.

When it comes to dealing with senior team members, executives need to understand when to take what action; when to hire, when to fire, when to supervise more closely, and when to give people room to do their jobs.  This is a talent that isn’t common, and can be best cultivated through personal awareness and practice (remember that executives still have a need to recognize areas where they could improve).  The very best can come from senior teams that have the right skills and experience, are in the right roles, and have the appropriate balance of support and direction to get the job done.  This environment is one to strive for, and is far from a given in many organizations

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of skills, including risk management, professional development, and high role engagement.  Here’s more about the why getting the management of people right is so important to the executive ranks.

Where it Goes Wrong

We all can appreciate that the executive world is a busy place and there are many things involved in getting the job done.  Human resource matters, such as recruitment, performance management, and coaching can be time consuming tasks and often get shuffled to the next day (or month), particularly in busy times.  There is considerable risk in this on both sides of the equation; where substandard performers are allowed to continue in their role at a risk to the company and perhaps others, while the “stars” of the group become frustrated by spinning wheels and a lack of progress, having not received the support they need to keep moving forward.  Does this sound familiar?

Skilled executives know how and when to take the right action when it comes to managing people.  They recognize that the benefits are at least twofold: better performance to the benefit of the company and better equity within the executive group (no one likes to carry a marginal performer).  Here are some executive worthy tips to get the managing people aspect of the role right:

  • Don’t favour quantity over quality. Managing people effectively at the executive level isn’t about spending the day making the rounds with superficial chit chat and meddling in the work of others.  It’s more about understanding the level of executive development of each team member, their strengths and weaknesses, and when to provide support or direction.  The quality of the message and motivation approach matters.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly. This mantra may be often said, but seems to be seldom followed. Take the time to understand the particular executive role that needs to be filled and identify a candidate that suits it well.  Conversely, when a team member is not working out, take the necessary performance management steps to bring the situation to an end, to the benefit of both the company and the team.
  • Communicate.  People like to be in the know and understand what is expected of them on an ongoing basis.  Areas for improvement, succession planning, and strategic direction are all important areas to address with the executive team, so don’t leave them in the dark.
  • Let high achievers fly (within reason). Good executives know that when they are fortunate enough to have a bona fide star (or two) on their team, they perform best by having the freedom to do their job, within corporate guidelines and policies.  These folks consistently turn out great results, are reliable, and will ask for assistance when needed.  Let them do their job and don’t meddle; a better strategy is to utilize your time working with team members who are not as well developed.
  • Learn to recognize the difference between high and marginal achievers. As strange as this might sound, some executives don’t do this well. If they believe it is possible to resolve a particular problem, they simply expect that it will be done, with little regard for the actual ability of the team member to do so.  This is a dangerous path, so make sure that you are not casting expectations that a team member is not capable of fulfilling. (this can be a good area to seek assistance from an experienced executive to provide you with coaching in this regard).
  • Recognize that a big part of an executive role is providing coaching when needed. The executive ranks are all about assembling a team that can lead the company to successfully execute on its business plan.  In order to do so, senior roles are less about doing the front line work and more about helping others to be successful in their role.  In order to do so, coaching and feedback are musts.

Executives who are able to manage people effectively at the senior level have a much better likelihood of generating success, on both a team and a corporate level.  It’s not about excessive “touchy/feely” stuff; rather, it’s about understanding who your team members are, in terms of needs and ability, and what their role is so that you can put them in the best position to win.

Risk Management

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As your career progresses, a funny thing can happen: you actually start to realize just how complicated the business world and your role can be.  Long gone are the early career refrains of “how hard could it be?” or “why not?”; experience has taught you just how hard things and all of the trouble that arises when the task at hand and the actions that were taken to address it should have been contemplated much more thoroughly.  Does it seem like the reverse should be true?  Call it “experience”.

Experience recognizes the full magnitude and complexity of situations and the actions that should be taken, as well as the various options that should be considered when making a decision.  Those who have successfully reached the executive level know that business situations are rarely black and white, and in fact, lots of grey areas exist; this is often the culprit of complexity.  As a result, experienced executives typically have a strong ability to identify complex situations and bring the right balance of analysis and action to bear.  This is what experience can do, in terms of developing the necessary level of judgment to recognize business risk (that can be mitigated), as compared to catastrophic risk (that can be devastating to a company).

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of skills, including professional development, consistent reliability, and high role engagement.  Here’s more about the importance of sound risk management skills to the executive ranks.

Where it Goes Wrong

Inexperience is often coupled with high enthusiasm and impatience; to get the job done, be recognized, and perhaps make a “splash” to generate a promotion opportunity.  Although there can be positive aspects to bringing action and enthusiasm to a role, there is a fine line between a “just do it” attitude and barging ahead in a careless manner.  Too often, less experienced staff members approach tasks without fully appreciating the challenges of the situation or the outcome of their actions.  Fast forward, and you might just find yourself in a situation that you wish you could have avoided or approached differently.  By this point, it’s often too late to turn back the proverbial clock, resulting in possible damage to the company, your reputation, and perhaps others.

Recognize that business situations are often much more complex and risk laden than most might realize.  Experience provides the tools to recognize this, but also the skills to identify options for resolution.  Here’s how:

  • Seek to fully understand situations before acting. Taking quick action without fully appreciating the situation is a likely path to trouble. The devil is, in fact, in the details, so take the time and effort to be in the know.
  • Identify the key things you need to know. When analyzing business situations, there are typically a number of important areas to understand: What is the situation? Who is involved/impacted? What are the limitations/guidelines that are applicable? What are the financial considerations? What is the timeline for resolution? Develop a list of the standard things you need to understand and use it as a guide for resolution.
  • Consider the outcomes fully. It’s important to understand the situation, but also the outcomes of the actions that could be taken.  This is an area that often doesn’t get as much attention as it should, resulting in the right solution, but the wrong approach.  Remember that executives often spend more time “thinking” and less time “doing”, so don’t rush to judgment.
  • Be patient. Senior level decision making often requires more thought and patience than new executives might expect.  In simple terms, executive level problems are more complex, can impact more people, and have greater consequences: all good reasons to gather information, think it through, and take a patient approach.
  • Get advice. Bring advisors and other experienced individuals into the process when needed.  Although an executive might understand their business and customers well, they may lack specialized knowledge in areas such as legal, tax, and regulatory, so advisors in these areas can fill important information gaps.  In addition, a sound second opinion from an experienced executive can be extremely helpful.

Executives who are able to weather the storms of the business world for the long term need to have sound risk management skills.  Failing to do so could result in unsuccessful ventures or a short-lived executive career; costs that are much too high not to prevent.

Role Engagement

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Have you ever had a job where you thought you had it all figured out?  Each day seems predictable, tasks seem routine, answers seem obvious, problems non-existent.  Routine, smooth sailing, nothing to report from here.  Hmmmm…could a job really be this easy?

Situations like this can actually be dangerous, as too much complacency and comfort in a job can create the potential for an “asleep at the wheel” scenario.  The result: substandard work, mistakes that don’t get caught, and a declining level of motivation and engagement.  The risks: can vary, depending on the seniority of the role, but should never be acceptable.  In practical terms, a lack of role engagement can cause all kinds of problems for companies.

Those who have successfully reached the executive level know that an “autopilot” mentality is never acceptable, as it insulates against what could go wrong, increasing risk to unacceptable levels.  Smart executives understand how critical sound risk management skills and awareness are, particularity as the seniority of the role increases, and it’s difficult to detect and manage risk without engagement (risks don’t typically come with signs and banners to announce their arrival!). In order to successfully protect a company from the proverbial “what could go wrong”, its leadership needs to be addressing the situation well in advance of when it arrives.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of professional development, comprehensive reading, clear communication, and consistent reliability as part of a strong executive skill set.  Here’s more about why being fully engaged in your role at all times is so important.

Where it Goes Wrong

Simply put, trouble begins when thoughts of “I have this all figured out” start to creep in.  Managers who fall into this mindset can become less effective in several directions: missing errors made by staff members; failing to notice risks and challenges emerging within their own role; and being a less effective management team member.  Allow this mentality to exist for a period of time and a once effective organization can find itself adrift (and that can be a scary place).

Resist the temptation to become too complacent and less aware of the complexities and issues developing around you.  Ensure that you are always fully engaged in your role; here’s how:

  • Recognize the benefits of fear. Not all fear comes to harm you; in fact, it can be helpful. Recognize the importance of your role and the consequences of making errors or performing poorly.  What could the impacts be to the business? Others?  Yourself?  This approach keeps it real and should provide the motivation to maximize your engagement level at all times.
  • Monitor your engagement level. Check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure that your engagement level is acceptable and not starting to wane.  Turn a declining situation around by setting some goals and/or identifying any tasks that are bogging down your productivity.  If your role is truly becoming too routine, talk to your supervisor about taking on some new tasks or increasing variety, where possible.
  • Increase your risk management skills. Risk management is a specialized, but interesting area.  Understanding more about how to identify and manage risks can provide the tools to help to put your role in context.  Seek out training opportunities with the goal of practical application.
  • Make continuous learning a norm. Professional development is an excellent tool to keep engagement high, as well as understanding the implications of substandard performance; make it a regular part of your working life.
  • Call out autopilot behavior. If you see examples of decreased role engagement in staff members or peers, speak up.  The team only performs as well as its weakest link, so raising the issue in the spirit of constructive improvement is fair.

Adopting a strategy of always being a little afraid is not a bad thing; with changing environments, competitive threats, and what the future holds, there is much to be mindful.  This fear mentality actually creates comfort, in terms of truly being in command of what’s going on and what’s to come.  No asleep at the wheel here.

Professional Development and Continuous Learning

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One of the interesting things about a career in business is that the more you learn, the more there is to know.  With the many functional aspects of the corporate world, such as accounting, finance, marketing, and human resources; coupled with industry trends, competition, technology, and practical experience gained on the job, a business person could spend every waking hour learning more.  What’s troubling is when people seem to stop learning, something particularly prevalent among the mid-level ranks, when formal studies have been left behind for what seems like more freedom and spare time.

Those who have successfully reached the executive level know how important continuous learning and professional development are.  Quite simply, they are a given.  Thinking that once you reach the “top job” means that you have sufficient knowledge and can take a pass on learning more is a myth, and even worse, a recipe for trouble.  Skilled executives know that in order to become and stay successful, it’s important to learn as much as you can, given the rapid pace of change and many economic factors.  Starting good professional development habits early not only brings the necessary knowledge base to generate success on the job now, it also instills the important continuous learning routine to practice throughout your career.

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial for achieving success in their role.  Taking the initiative to understanding and adopting these important skills can differentiate you from others in your peer group, generating better results today, while helping to prepare you for advancement tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading, clear communication, and consistent reliability.  Here’s more about why professional development and continuous learning are so important.

 Where it Goes Wrong

Early career days tend to be characterized by lots of excitement around a new role, new workplace, and what seems like endless opportunity.  Fast forward a few years to what can become days of routine, expectations that haven’t been realized, and enthusiasm can start to fade.  What’s more, your work environment can actually influence how you see the world, including your role, impact, and future prospects, and this can be a problem, particularly in a workplace that isn’t as positive as it should be.  Before you know it, your attitude is on the decline, which (you guessed it!) can start to impact your career advancement prospects.

This might sound a bit dramatic, but it unfortunately happens far too often.  With the many ways to absorb professional development these days- webinars, podcasts, online learning, and convenient breakfast/lunch seminars; being in the know is easier than ever.

Turn a bad situation around (or avoid it altogether) by getting on the professional development path; learn new skills, seek out opportunities, and spend some time with the crowd that wants to (and probably will) go places; here’s how to get started:

  • Set goals and priorities. Step back and think about your career objectives over the next year, as well as three, five, and even ten years from now. Where do you want to go?  What roles are of interest to you?  Once you have established an overall plan, it’s easier to identify the professional development programs that would be most beneficial to you.
  • Benefit from the experience of others. Get advice from others as to courses or PD resources that they have tapped into; find out what was of value and what worked well for them.  Ask your supervisor about professional development activities that would help you to advance in the workplace, perhaps to positions you have already discussed.  This approach can help to ensure that you spend your time wisely and might also identify some options you had not considered.
  • Seek out workplace PD programs. Many employers have professional development programs that offer courses and seminars and/or provide financial support to employees who successfully complete studies in areas that are relevant to their job.  These programs can provide tremendous benefit to employees, such as the chance to complete a designation program fully financed by the company, as opposed to the staff member.
  • Work within your time constraints. Have what seems to be no time at all for continuous learning?  These days, that’s not a problem, as there are so many ways to learn.  Despite a busy lifestyle, most people can find the time to tap into online learning resources or podcasts at their leisure.

Successful executives know that they can learn something from almost any situation, good or bad, and they never stop seeking out the chance to do so.  We all know that knowledge is power, so the only way you lose is by not getting started.