Future State

April 27th, 2010

As part of our coaching program for executives, I conduct feedback interviews with 10-12 people who work closely with the client. These are superiors, peers and direct reports who provide a broad perspective about a client’s strengths and weaknesses. As coaching goes, this is one of the ‘gold mines’ for identifying potential areas for improvement.

Last week, one of the high-level executives I interviewed recommended this approach for the client we were discussing:

“It starts with recognizing what made him successful before is not going to get him to the company’s desired future state. If he does a better job improving his skill sets then he can help us get there. These provide opportunities to search the soul and think about what he can do to help us. He needs to identify three weaknesses – and we all have them – and challenge himself to turn those into strengths.”

Too often leaders at all levels incorrectly assume that the skills and traits that made them successful – and likely earned them a promotion – end up being mostly irrelevant as their roles evolve into higher responsibility. That’s why great sales people struggle to be great sales managers… why outstanding workers struggle to be outstanding managers… why knowledge experts struggle to be generalists.

The key to making a successful transition up the leadership ladder is to avoid fooling yourself into thinking anything you did previously has relevance in your new role. While what you previously did provided a solid foundation, it is imperative you learn new ways to work with and engage people. Your main responsibility as a leader is to lead, not do. Marshall Goldsmith wrote it best in his 2007 bestseller by the same name: “What got you here won’t get you there.”

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