I can remember like it was yesterday the excitement of becoming a business unit vice president at the age of 32. Equally as vivid was how quickly I moved from an enthusiastic beginner, or the D1 space in Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model to D2, the disillusioned learner. Disillusioned learners are described as discouraged, overwhelmed, and frustrated, often finding it difficult to master the basics of a new role or task. And frustrated I was- wanting nothing more than to have had experienced, at least once or twice, all the tough issues I was facing on what seemed like a daily bases. I knew it was just a matter of time, little did I realize was just how much.
A few weeks back I found myself on the opposite side of this conversation in a dialogue about one of our young leaders with her coach. We were digging in on a few of the developmental opportunities that were emerging and in classic style for me I started pressing for progress. That didn’t last too long as the coach stopped me mid-sentence and with the appropriate amount of passion said, “Mark please, we can’t microwave our young leaders.” In an instant I was smiling and thinking just how right she was and subsequently began collecting my thoughts on how to avoid the trap of too much, too fast, too far with respect to the growth and development of our new associates. What became very obvious is the commitment of and commitment to time is very real, and much like Stephen Covey’s Law of the Harvest, “you reap what you sow” in the development of others through persistence, patience and perseverance. As Covey says, “there are no short cuts” and my recommendation is we budget extra time for the following:
Getting To Know Them….”Really”
We so often here how leadership is about relationships, and relationships are defined by Wikipedia as a “strong, deep, or close association / acquaintance between two or more people.” I believe we don’t even start to really know someone for at least a year and it’s in the second that strong, deep and close begin to emerge. “It takes three years from soil prep to harvest” says Covey, the same holds true for rich, trusting, and truly developmental relationships.
Being Present in Their Work and Life
In their seminal book The Leadership Challenge Kouzes and Posner wrote, “The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present.” Clearly the message here is time spent together in meetings and semi-annual performance reviews just doesn’t cut it. In this day and age of work life integration when people take their work home and bring home to work our conversation have to be much more frequent, spanning work and life, and yes, at times can get a bit personal. And I believe time is best spent in the context of relationship building, growth and development in what I refer to as conversations about nothing. No agenda, no desired outcome, and no follow–up needed; just simple ramblings about each other.
Modeling the Way
Human beings are innately social and are shaped by their experience with others. Along with this is our understanding that associates are professional boss watchers and subsequently mirror many of the actions and behaviors they experience from their leaders. If you want a glimpse into the future leadership of your organization, take a look in that proverbial mirror.
Patience has long been identified as a timeless universal principle. This day and age however I sometimes wonder about it’s place in an era where so much emphasis is being put on speed, on efficiency, and on our ability to have everything we need within a 3 second click of a button. It’s interesting to compare and contrast a microwave and a farmer, minutes vs. years. In farming, patience is still a virtue, “three years from sow to harvest.” The same holds true for developing our young leaders, there is simply no place for a microwave.