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Bringing Your A-Game A guide for high potentials By Bonnie Hagemann & Saundra Stroope Competition is hot and leadership is needed. High potentials who want to make it to the “suite seats” are expected to deliver results, be inspiring leaders, think critically, be flexible, innovative, collaborative AND be able to lead influentially. It’s no small task. In fact, in order to make it, high potentials must bring their “A-Game” every day. They no longer have the luxury of a bad day, week, month, or quarter. They have to get up every day and bring their very best to the table. As developers of leaders, we see executives and high potentials every day. Some make it. Many don’t. Why? Well, there are many reasons but we often see leaders run into challenging situations and begin a downward spiral that ultimately caused them to derail. As a high potential, challenging situations are exactly what their bosses and we, as developers of leaders, give them. We give them stretch assignments, new territories, stretch goals, more bandwidth, more staff to manage, hot political situations, and the toughest customer negotiations. Many times we send high potentials into uncharted territories and new experiences that call for learning new skills as well as the adaptability to apply the skills they already have in brand new situations. And what do we expect back from these high performers? We expect nothing less than superior performance and business outcomes. When developed appropriately, high potentials will have the support of good mentors, an executive coach, development courses, continuous feedback and an environment conducive to meet expectations and perform. Too often though, we find that high potentials are not developed appropriately. Instead they are given all of the increased responsibility and none of the support needed to grow into the expanded role. According to a study by the Vaya Group, 40% of high potential job moves end in failure and up to 64% of high potentials say that developmental assignments are having little impact on their development. So who is responsible for appropriate development? It’s a combination. The success of high potentials falls on the shoulders of their manager, senior leaders in the organization, the development staff, their mentor, their coach and ultimately the high potential. There are many reasons that high potentials fail to grow to the next level and most are correctable with focused attention. One thing is sure - getting to the top of organizations today is not for the weak, weary or easily discouraged. It requires a strong heart and extreme resilience. The high potential must have the ability to get up every day and give it everything and that includes creating enough rest, family time and balance to stay sharp, engaged and effective. In a recent coaching engagement, our coach kept getting feedback that the high potential was “venting” to anyone and everyone about the slow pace and bureaucratic labyrinth in the 100+ year old organization where he served. He didn’t stop there, he was furious with his Vice President (2 levels above him) for his seemingly poor decisions to move out the high potential’s boss and had told the VP that he didn’t agree and didn’t want to work in his division. The coach sat the high potential down and let him know that while what he was saying may be true, the venting wasn’t helping anyone. In fact, if he weren’t such a star performer, his venting would have already cost him either his job with the company or at least his current position as a high potential and in fact, his status was in jeopardy. He had one chance to redeem himself, and he better get it right. The exceptionally smart and fit engineer in his early 40s looked a little shell shocked and stated emphatically that he was right. “It doesn’t matter,“ said his coach. “Do you want to make it to VP or not?” “Yes.” He answered. “Then you have 6-months working with me to fix it and here is how I recommend that you start:” 1. You will start bringing your “A-Game” to work every day. You will not allow yourself the luxury of letting your guard down or acting in a way unbecoming of a senior leader. 2. You will immediately stop venting to anyone at work – ever. If you don’t have a solution that you can implement, keep your mouth shut or ask for permission to work on the problem. 3. You will go to your Vice President and apologize for your hasty and emotional reaction. Ask if you can try again. If the answer is no, then say you understand and work to regain his respect. If, hopefully, the answer is yes, you will say that you didn’t understand his decision and although you realize she probably can’t discuss this situation, you would like to learn how to make difficult decisions and how to deal with the consequences in the aftermath. Would he be willing to mentor you over a quarterly lunch meeting? Rebuilding this relationship will be crucial for his continued consideration for senior leader positions. 4. Begin acting like a leader with peers, direct reports and indirect reports. Not only will you not vent to them, you will also not allow them to vent to you. Instead, you will encourage them to think proactively and get involved in making a change in areas where they can make a difference. 5. Finally let a close friend and colleague or potentially even your current boss know that you are working on these areas and ask for help. Ask this person to point out any slips and hold you accountable for making the change. The high potential made one more stab at defending himself. “Look, I had a great job before I came here. In my last company, everyone liked my style and I was on track to make VP.” “Wouldn’t it be easier for me just to get a job somewhere else, where I’m valued for who I am?” The coach encouraged him to look at it another way. “No one likes a complainer and what you’ve been doing is complaining.” Once you get to a certain level in an organization, it is just as important that your peers want you to succeed as it is that your boss wants you to, and it is always important that your boss and senior leaders want you to succeed. Your style of venting is a derailer. It isn’t leadership. You can fix it now or you can fix it later, but if you want to be a Vice President, you are going to have to fix it. This organization has provided you the time and the tools and the potential of a long runway as a leader here. It’s a good time to take on the challenge and learn to lead. He got the message and jumped into making the changes that afternoon. He went to his peers and explained that he had been wrong to complain, and that he had some clean up to do. Then he went to his boss and asked for permission to request a meeting with his Vice Personal Excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 06.2014 18


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