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Executive Leadership: A Workplace That Develops People - Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: A Workplace That Develops People

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: A Workplace That Develops People

It’s a frequently mocked job interview question: “What is your greatest challenge as an employee?” Too often, the response is a mockery itself, as respondents dodge the question with laughable boasts—“I care too much,” “I’m stubborn about quality work,” or “I don’t know how to get myself out of the office at a normal hour.” In a world that celebrates competence, it can be nearly impossible to get people to admit their vulnerabilities, especially right off the bat, especially the higher up the ladder the candidate has climbed.

A lot of energy is spent covering up vulnerabilities and weaknesses, according to the authors of An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Development Organization—too much energy, and it is a misguided expenditure. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey explain on a Harvard Business Review podcast that “If I’m spending part of my energy hiding my weaknesses and my inadequacies, it’s much less likely that I’m going to overcome them. So work immediately becomes not a place where I’m likely to keep growing and developing.” What this looks like on a day-to-day basis is a reluctance to ask questions for fear of seeming unsure or unable, which results in miscommunication and wasted effort, at the very least. When everyone’s worried about the expectation of already being the fully developed contributor, nobody gets better.

Of course, the critical part of getting employees to acknowledge their weaknesses is to develop a company culture that celebrates vulnerability as an opportunity for growth, and this is a multidirectional, permeating need: if the project manager is expected to embrace his or her weaknesses as positive opportunities, the executive must also, with no fear by subordinates of being reprimanded, fired, or considered a complainer for offering constructive feedback.

There’s an important distinction here between simply accepting positive feedback for the purpose of making the product better, and conceiving of every day (every decision, every suggestion, and every criticism) as a chance for personal self-improvement by everyone on the team. In the former, a personal weakness is acknowledged, accounted for, and mitigated against, which is extraordinarily difficult by itself. These are all positive actions, usually resulting in better teamwork and better output. In the latter, there is an acknowledgment that everyone in the company is a work in progress and in constant, regular development toward becoming the best person he or she can be. When a child falls off a bicycle the first time he tries to ride it without training wheels, we see it as a step toward learning something important, toward development of his future self, not something to be made up for; we don’t decide to have an older child ride the bike in his place instead. Whether that child gets back on, wipes his tears, grits his teeth, and tries again is largely dependent on how supportive his friends and family are.

Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar, writes in his book Creativity, Inc. (which we reviewed two years ago) that “As leaders, we should think of ourselves as teachers and try to create companies in which teaching is seen as a valued way to contribute to the success of the whole.” In the healthy, developmental company, leaders see themselves also as students who can learn from everyone, with everyone contributing to each other’s success. A willingness in the leader to be vulnerable is an important first step toward such a willingness companywide.

Kegan and Laskow stress that they are not talking about small, doomed-for-failure startups. These are successful companies by any measure, and they succeed because they have established a culture where frailties and flaws are offered by each team member, and the success of Catmull’s Pixar speaks for itself. Are your humans merely resources, or are they beautiful, glorious people in constant states of growth, and what can you do to help them bloom where they are planted?

Reference Link:
HBR Podcast: https://hbr.org/ideacast/2016/05/let-employees-be-people.html


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Executive Leadership: A Workplace That Develops People - Executive Leadership Articles

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