Time to Upgrade Your Leadership OS


Author: Claudia Lau

Copyright: White Space Ltd. 2019

On different occasions and not even once, I found that many leaders are confused about the true meaning of competence development and mix it up with their daily work plans.

It has been more than 16 years since I started my career in the field of leadership development. To me, leadership development is crucial and should be embedded in the DNAs of all organizations. Yet in recent years, I continuously discovered that many result-oriented corporations get lost on this, which is worth paying more attention to.

As an Executive Coach, I have experienced for many times that some COACHEES and their superiors put the work action items into the Personal Development Plans (PDPs) . Can you imagine what would be the result of mixing daily work plans and competence development? A quick answer is, it would be as disappointing as updating the APPs in your smartphone without updating your OS!

B is the Regional Sales Manager for the Greater China Area of a sizeable MNC. His General Manager expected that he can aggressively grow the market share and the revenue in the whole region. Originally, they focused the discussion on the potential of different market segments for aggressive growth. After massive data analysis, B has worked out a series of sales plan, set up the milestones for the upcoming 20 months, and also allocated the resources needed, he was ready for a hard battle. This is the rationale and process that most corporations adopt when planning for strategic growth, which identifies the market opportunities and maps out the concrete actions and resources allocation.

With such glamorous plan, B and his teammates worked to exhaustion with plenty of overtimes, they even had meetings with retailers in different cities on weekends, all they did is hoping to achieve such an aggressive business growth. The result? B received two resignation letters from the key persons in his team long before such aggressive target has been met. They quitted because they were seriously overloaded and the competitors were willing to pay more to hire them. For many times in many organizations, the story ends here, and the BU head will talk to HR, 'Our renumeration is uncompetitive, please raise the salary and increase the headcount for our team.'

Last year, the headquarter of B's company launched the Talent Development Program, B was being chosen as a talent for further development. B went through a series of assessments and 360° Feedback Survey, which enabled him to understand his leadership effectiveness and development direction. After going through that series of assessments and 360° Feedback Survey, B realized that he has huge room for development in the areas of Team Leadership and Time Management.

Through the 360° Feedback Survey, B's subordinates shared that B is obviously a very good Salesman, he possesses strong selling skills and he has good relationships with key retailers across the whole country. All the retailers he directly managed became the record-breaking accounts in the market. However, as a Sales Leader, he lacked the ability to develop his team. The veterans used their own ways to get business, which was totally fine in the past. Yet the business had been growing too fast in recent years, there were more new comers joining in the team. Although the new comers had good product knowledge and were good at communications, but their business figures were just dissatisfactory. From the veterans' perspective, the newbies lacked patience and skills to build up relationships with the retailers, they should be given more trainings. On the contrary, the newbies complained that the veterans only fight their own battles, they did not bother to train up or help the newbies when they encounter challenges. Afterall, B's leadership is seemingly the root cause for all these issues, what he need is to develop his leadership.

On the other hand, the 360° Feedback Survey also reflected that B needed to improve his time management. His personality and professional background made him cares much about maintaining harmonious relationship with others, he basically never said no to the requests of other BUs. He seldom looked at the priority of different projects on hand and considered the workload of his team. As time goes by, many BUs brought up trivia to B's team for solution. And as B accepted almost all the requests, the team had no choice but to share all the additional workload that the leader took on.

After his leadership effectiveness being fully reviewed, B found that there was a big gap between his own perception and others'. He summarized his discovery in this way, 'I have been running desperately and thought that my teammates have no problem catching up closely. However, some of them are going to fall and I still don't recognize it. And now, the boss wants us to run faster, run further and I model the way to give my 120% effort, I assume others can do the same, but the reality is my teammates are already exhausted.'

'Are you sure you are still okay to work that hard?' I asked, looking at his dark circles and remembering that he just took two sick leaves recently.

'I am going to burnout soon, actually.' B said.

'It seems that we have more clarity about what's happening now, let's see what can we do next!'

B then mapped out his plan to develop his Team Leadership and Time Management , 'I will relearn how to be a leader, and put more focus on my own team instead of just looking at the battle outside.' When the conversation comes to this point, the coaching is halfly succeeded.

This is the story of one of my coachees, B.

For so many times, when business figures and performance are not as good as expected, many leaders immediately look at the 'External' issues:

  • Are the staffs not capable enough?
  • Is the competition out there too fierce?
  • Are our products not competitive enough?
  • Is our C&B package not competitive enough? ................

But very few leaders are willing to look deeply into their own leadership and see truly:

  • What aspect in my leadership is not working well?
  • Do I rely too much on extrinsic rewards to motivate my staff?
  • Do I pass on my skills and knowledge to my teammates effectively?
  • Is my collaboration with other departments effective? Do I truly win their buy-in?

From my experience, many leaders see their own responsibility more clearly through the feedbacks from key stakeholders through the Qualitative 360°Survey. With no doubt, 'external factors' are important, yet leaders should not forget to review their own 'internal factors' from time to time. Just like B, he may probably ask for pay rise and more headcount to solve the problem if he just looks at the 'external factors'. The effect will be short-lived because the competitors can follow and do the same easily, and this will be a long-term burden for the company as well. What's worse, the company can only retain people who cares mostly about monetary renumeration, but not those who treasure personal growth and development, job satisfaction and work-life balance.

Therefore, when you are thinking about how to boost the business result next time, no matter it is about sales revenue, service level, customer satisfaction or any other KPIs, please also look deeply inside and see if you need to work on any of your leadership competence at the same time. Without looking inside, nothing will be a long-term solution. Taking smart phone as an example, if we optimize the performance of a particular APP, we not only need to update the APP, but also the smart phone's Operating System (OS).

As a leader, when was the last update of your own OS?