Today’s guest blogger is Scott Eblin. You can read all about him at the end of the post and also learn about his great new book that just hit shelves. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of it. Here’s Scott…
If you’re a high potential leader, there’s about a 98% chance that you’re thought of or view yourself as a “go-to person.” I know that number ‘s in the ballpark because I regularly ask audiences of high potential leaders, “How many of you have been referred to or think of yourself as a ‘go-to person?’” Usually, just about every hand in the room goes up. For example, in a webinar I conducted for Government Executive magazine, 98% of the 400 plus senior managers online answered yes to the “go-to” question in a flash poll.
And what do I mean by “go-to person”? As one leader explained it to me, “I’m the closer.” You either know the type or you are the type. Go to people are the ones who make sure the job gets done. If that means taking over, so be it. If that means staying up into the wee hours, so be it. Organizations reward go-to people because they can rely on them. They’re the kinds of folks who are designated as high potentials and are promoted into bigger and bigger jobs. Great stuff, right? Well, it is until it isn’t…
We’ve all seen the cases of high performing, super achieving go-to people who are promoted to executive level roles and then hit the wall. The air is rare up there and the failure rate is high. A well known study by the Center for Creative Leadership shows that up to 40% of newly promoted managers and executives are no longer in their roles within 18 months of their promotion. What goes wrong? Ironically, it stems from that go-to person approach. With each move up, the scope of work expands. Instead of results expectations in one or two areas, results are expected on multiple fronts.
Through my work with both seasoned and rising leaders, I’ve concluded that executive success depends on a process of picking up and letting go. There are sets of behaviors that executives need to pick up and let go of when they take on bigger jobs and the new expectations that go with them. Over the years, I’ve developed and tested a model of leadership that breaks these pick up and let go behaviors into three types of leadership presence – personal, team and organizational. The model looks like this:
For the go-to person leader, picking up is the easier part of the process. The go-to folks are bright people. They learn quickly. Picking up new skills is usually a cognitive challenge. What’s more challenging is the letting go. That’s an emotional hurdle because now you’re facing letting go of some of the very behaviors that made you successful on your way up.
Over the past several years, my company has conducted a 360 degree assessment based on the Next Level model for over 500 rising executives. The aggregate results tell an interesting story about the strengths these go-to people bring to the table as well as the behaviors they need to adjust to succeed in their executive level roles.
At the high end of the scale are behaviors like having a strong desire for the team to succeed, demonstrating stamina and energy and showing mental acuity. When you consider that our database consists of assessments for high potential leaders, the high end results aren’t surprising. They’re really the baseline behaviors and characteristics of go-to people. Where things get interesting is the behaviors that are the five items that the colleagues of these high potentials rate the lowest. They are:
– Paces him/herself by building in regular breaks from work.
– Leaves time in his/her schedule for unexpected problems or issues.
– Spends less time using his/her functional skills and more time encouraging team members to use theirs.
– Regularly takes time to step back and define or redefine what needs to be done.
– Spends less time on day to day issues and more time on strategic opportunities.
When you connect the dots, you see a picture of go-to people who are running flat out until they crash because it’s hard to let go of self reliance. Many of my clients take on this challenge in a focused development process that we call an Executive Success Plan or ESP. Based on follow-up colleague feedback, the ones that are most successful are the ones that focus in on one or two key behaviors and then get their colleagues engaged with providing simple ideas for how to be better. If you’re clear about what you’re working on, tell people what you’re working on, ask them for ideas on how to improve and follow through on their good ideas, you can become a better leader.
It all lines up with what Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Successful executives learn to pick up new habits and let go of old ones that enable them to make the shift from go-to person to leader of go-to people.
Scott Eblin is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success. Scott is also an executive coach, speaker, and blogger. He is a former Fortune 500 HR executive, president of The Eblin Group and graduate of Davidson College, Harvard University, and Georgetown University’s leadership coaching certificate program, where he is also on the faculty.