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IT’S ABOUT THEM…NOT YOU

Welcome to the upper echelon: the top 100 or the C suite or the extended leadership team. Congratulations on all your hard work and abilities that got you here. Take a moment to revel in your glory and pat yourself on the back. Now get over yourself.

If developing the talent around you wasn’t part of your core repertoire before it better be now. What distinguishes a decent leader from a great one is how deep and broad the bench is. If the company’s success is dependent on a handful of superstars and most of them are on the executive team then the board ought to be very nervous and that, in turn, should get your attention. As much as we all want to wrap ourselves in our titles and comp and status and do all we can to keep plumping that up, we are missing the point. Once you have reached the top your focus needs to shift from your own well being to the company’s long term prospects. So what are you doing to ensure the future? How much time and investment do you make in nurturing the next generation of leaders?

Most executives are quite good about identifying their short list of potential successors and doing a lot to fill out their portfolios. That’s great but it’s not enough. Developing talent needs to be a much broader task shared by all top leaders. Sadly, that job is usually delegated to the top HR person who then spends her days trying to push it back onto the senior leaders. It’s not that execs don’t take talent development seriously…in theory. But in reality when they are making choices about how they spend their time those mentoring discussions fall off the map. Or worse, they get put on the schedule and keep being bumped for emerging business issues. It is always a negotiable slot on the calendar when other stuff comes up. So in reality, it is not a priority.

But if you really want to excel as a senior leader and you want to have a huge impact on your company’s future, investing your time and resources in developing others is where it is at. Rather than thinking of this in monolithic terms, let’s break this down so you see how easy it is think more about others than yourself.

Make a habit of any/all of these actions.

  • When you are invited to make a presentation (at the board, a professional conference) say thanks and then recommend your team expert do it instead. If your cache/gravitas is behind the request offer to share the spotlight. You will be present and carry on a dialogue with your expert but s/he will do the lion’s share. And try not to let your head spin when it’s your name recognition that they want.
  • You know all those CEO update meetings that happen 2-4 times a year? Rather than you providing the data, bring your person into the room. Be sure your top folks are repeatedly exposed to the whole leadership team, that they learn how to be in the hot seat and that they constantly refine their presentation skills.
  • Spend time with key talent around the company. If you are traveling to a different location reserve part of your time to have lunch with a superstar. If you bump into someone at the coffee pot you don’t interact with much, strike up a conversation. If there is someone on your peer’s succession list that you don’t know well, set up time to get to know him/her. In short, make contact.
  • Always, always, always give credit where it is due…which is usually people that work for you. Be sure to pepper the exec team meetings with “I can give you an overview but Jason is really the guy. This is his team’s work.”
  • On the flip side, don’t hang on to under performers. People need to see you as having high standards, being fair but firm and nurturing those with potential. Imagine someone leaving the organization saying “As painful as it was, Sara did me a favor. She was able to objectively assess how I was doing and what my real potential was in this company. I hated every minute of it but I couldn’t disagree with her in the end that I would be much better off someplace else.”
  • When the SVP of HR asks you to get involved in some kind of talent initiative, be the first one to jump in. Then tell your peers about how rewarding it is and urge them to join in.
  • Be generous. With your time, your network, your guidance. Develop a reputation as THE go-to person for all staff.
  • Follow through religiously on all supervisory, team and mentoring meetings. It should be a rare occasion that you need to cancel. Beyond the usual maintenance issues to discuss in these meetings, ample time should be spent discussing developmental needs and progress. If you don’t show up or move through these on automatic pilot you are making your priorities clear.

It’s not complicated. It’s not hard. It doesn’t even take huge amounts of time. But you have to be committed and disciplined about demonstrating your investment in the people around you. For many it is tough to shift gears from that self centered orientation. I get it. Totally normal to watch out for our own self interests. But once you’ve arrived your responsibilities are much broader and more inclusive. You are an officer of the Company, not just the Master of your own universe. As one newly minted CFO told me, “Damn! I worked so hard for so many years to finally get the prize. Now I find out I need to share it!”

For more information on GetReal help: https://getrealleadership.com/get-real-help/

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