This Blog (the 4th in a series) on the 10 essential traits of a great leader will discuss one that doesn't necessarily make everyone's list, but it does mine. One of my favorite sayings is from Harvey Firestone, the tire guy:
" The growth and development of people is the highest calling of Leadership"
I certainly benefitted from mentors who were committed to this early in my career and went out of their way to push me to a higher potential. Jerry Vasile, PhD. was chief among them and the most obvious in giving me challenges that were above my ability at the time, but evidently not above my potential. Paul Griner, MD and Leo Brideau were more impactful than they realized during a period of growth and transition. Then there was a group of Upstate NY CEO's who were natural teachers, just by virtue of their expansive experience. All I had to do was watch them, and believe me, I did. Murry Marsh, Jim Dooley, Mike Weidner, Tim McCormick, Jim Mahar, Ralph Meyer, Bill Streck, MD, Keith Fenstermacher and Bob Kayser. These were all long time leaders that built great systems and had fun doing it. Many are gone now and I find myself thinking a lot about them during the holidays.
Then there were people who reported to me over the years who were always teaching me, whether they knew it or not. Pete McGinn, PhD., Matt Salanger, Joe Cerra, Judy Persichilli, Howard Watts, John Capasso, This list goes on. To be sure, I was very fortunate and more than a little lucky.
During my career, i tried to live by Harvey Firestone's words. I believed that developing future leaders was more important than anything but quality, safety and service we provided. Frankly, when we got those things right, the financial performance almost always followed. I point with some pride to my list of more than 25 executives who reported to me at some point who became CEO's in their own right. I don't believe this was by accident.
These are some of the things that you have to do to find potential and help people grow:
>Concentrate on finding those with potential- This means looking deep within the organization for those that are demonstrating potential by doing good things; usually above and beyond the expected. People who are willing to take on extra assignments, do special project work or come up with unusual ideas. I also looked for folks who could be challenging at times, as long as I could see the positive motivation behind it.
>It takes time to develop talent... and it takes effort. You must be willing to carve time out of busy schedules to devote that time to those you have identified.
>Work with those you have identified by spending individual time with them, learning about them, their aspirations, their family, their very specific development needs. Ask not only them, but those who work closely with them for ideas on where they can grow. This should be the sole topic of discussion with them when you are meeting on their development, Normal business updates should be saved for a different time.
>CULTIVATE THEIR GROWTH- DONT LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. Standardized leadership development programs developed within HR or outsourced are fine and a necessary piece of the equation, but not what I am talking about. I am talking about the senior leader's personal attention to the "whole person" of the high potential individual. The individual will always appreciate it and will make the most of the opportunity.
>Don't be limited by traditional career paths. Consider all options, even the wild ones. Look for what brings passion to the high potential person's eyes and ears. It will not be hard to recognize and many times, it comes "out of left field." It may also call for them looking for their growth outside of your organization. That's ok and they should know that is ok.
>Allow for mistakes and celebrate them. I'm not talking about fatal ones, but understanding the courage that is needed to take reasonable risk is something that a great leader needs to master. We will discuss that attribute of courage as the last of my 10 "C's".
>Use the ideas that worked for you if you were lucky enough to have someone take a real interest in you. Chances are, if it worked for you, it will work for your mentee.
>There will never be a perfect time to promote a person, but if it is close, make the move. Depending on the type of industry you are in, the "perfect time" is elusive. Using your own leadership style, you will determine your approach. Mine was always "throw them into the pool and see if they can swim".
As part of my training as an executive coach, I was asked to come up with a symbolic expression of what it meant fo be a good coach and leader. Its a bit hokey, but it works for me:
Great Leaders are the sunshine,the water and the rich soil which help people grow. They are, among other things, CULTIVATOR(s).
Thanks for reading my blogs. It is fun to share my musings and I am very interested in hearing your thoughts. To be sure, your will see them in my future blogs.