As an Executive - Part 1
How far can you take your people?
As an executive, this is your deepest, most immediate question. How far can you take your people? The energy of it, the potential woven into your answer, and finally, your response is dripping with opportunity. It is demonstrated to you by how your people respond.
As an executive, your people are your precious inventory. They (men, women, bright and inspiring, troubled and frustrating) will populate your vision with ideas, actions, and questions.
Questions freely distribute power, and your role as a leader must go beyond challenging your people with questions exploring performance short falls. Rather, to open their minds in new ways.
Imagine walking around inside the mind of a team member, who you believe has astonishing potential. You observe that the walls and hallways in this wonderous space are peppered with windows. What windows might you open inside that busy, fascinating mind that will allow the light of wisdom and creativity to enter? How can you both, together, employ that light to illuminate their path? Further, imagine them three years down the road. What blind spots about how they operate should you subtly and unequivocally point out to them?
What skills do you want to see them develop?
As an executive begins many sentences in these posts, and should do so in your mind, as well.
Because as an executive, your operating territory is different from a VP or a Director. While those roles are critical, challenging, fun and even thrilling, they do not require the occupant to look thirty-six months down the road. Sitting in the Executive Chair (no matter where it is, or how much the actual chair looks like everyone else’s) means that your responsibility and focus is different. The concerns are different. The orchestration of the team’s efforts is different.
That differentiation point is ELEVATION.
Directors and VPs want to measure and manage.
Executives must inspire and instill.
Directors and VPs measure KPIs and deal with moods.
Effective executives elevate the thinking, vision, and confidence of larger groups and more diverse populations. All the while providing the intellect and vision to power their direct reports. As an executive (whether you are on the path to become one, or are occupying that role today), you must leverage language in more subtle, more complete, more exploratory ways.
Thinking in terms of musicality - moving from a functionary or individual contributor role to Team Lead, Supervisor, Manager or Director, is the equivalent to playing your individual instrument less often and leading more rehearsals. We are social beings, we like talking about the big game, the weather, and the long wait at the elevator. Moving from that earlier role to the next means separating yourself from some of the social, chatter-y components and moments that many workers look forward to in their day. Especially when considering what Dwayne Samuels (inventor of Same Logic Al) tells us: “We are not thinking beings who happen to feel. We are feeling beings who happen to think.”
Take a moment and view your staff – each one of them – as you picture these people, seeing them as precious inventory shifts your mind to be more focused on their potential. Potential is inanimate, invisible and intangible. Which is amazing, considering that many of us can sense or identify it in others. And this is the arena in which we amble around inside the minds of our people – opening windows.
Asking questions as a leadership act demands clarity of purpose. Caution and creativity go hand in hand here, as we filter our statements and refine our questions by considering:
“What do I want (what I am about to say or ask) . . .to accomplish?”
As an executive, our questions are not about digging admissions of guilt out of people. We do not endeavor to trap someone or nail them to the wall. If those actions are necessary, they will inevitably happen as a result of the employee making multiple errors.
Our role is to E L E V A T E.
Not levitate, because that paints a picture of something unnatural or unmanageable.
We are here to draw potential out of people. To ask them to consider, to encourage them to pursue the best version of themselves. Our growth depends upon theirs. We will not ask better questions by asking the same question of everyone, but we should have some stock questions in our leadership file, such as: “What do you think you are capable of accomplishing in your current role?” Another is: “What am I missing?”
Some may see this as a potential can of worms, and that may very well be the case, but as an executive, we would prefer to open our own cans – expose our own business vulnerabilities internally, then to ignore them or have them exploited by a competitor. Every day, you are making impressions on people. These “feeling beings who happen to think” are recounting what you say and how you walk away from conversations to someone. As an executive, your role is to have the hearer of those stories think: “I wish I worked for that person!”
We will continue this journey in future posts.