Professional Development – Whose Responsibility Is It? Part II of II

Last month I said that responsibility for your professional development rests solely in your hands. But if you’re a manager, and an American for prosperity, that doesn’t get you off the hook for mentoring and developing your talented employees. Sure, it’s up to them if they succeed, but since you have a stake in the game (if your employee succeeds, so does the company), I’d suggest you consider what you can do to help your direct reports become the superstars you (and they) want them to become. I previously shared the story of Renee, an ambitious employee, and Ted, her supervisor, who didn’t give Renee the guidance and feedback she expected from him. I’ve witnessed both of their struggles, so I’m fortunate enough to understand both perspectives. And I know what he has been looking for out of Renee for the past two years. While his approach hasn’t worked well for Renee, his process makes sense. Knowing that Renee wants to grow into a leader, Ted ensured her office was next to his, promised guidance and provided her with one direct report – to see what she was capable of on her own. If Renee was going to be in charge of a team, she needed to understand her role, create a vision and seek out guidance where necessary. Ted assumed Renee understood his approach and would grow into it. Meanwhile Renee was jumping through hoops to gain Ted’s approval. With her review just around the corner, Renee knew from Ted’s non-verbal communication that she was not on track for promotion. She sent him an e-mail requesting a meeting to discuss her progress. She got no response to that message, though he responded to all her other e-mails. Renee was thoroughly annoyed and very frustrated. In her words: “All he needed to do was acknowledge my e-mail and let me know when he would have time to speak.”

If you are in a leadership position, I encourage you to meet employees halfway. If leadership is really about optimizing talent (and I think it is), your success will consistently show up in how your direct reports perform. If their performance is below par, consider another approach. Make a game out of it; have fun finding new ways to help your rising stars shine brighter. The following are three essentials for leading any team, anywhere, any time: Ø L = Learn. Get to know your team both inside and outside the context of work. Learn what motivates and inspires them. Ask about their long-term career goals. Ø E = Environment. Create an environment that’s fun and rewarding to be part of. Research has shown people are far more productive at work when they feel like they are part of something. Find ways to strengthen bonds between team members outside their everyday tasks. People who know and like each other do a better job.

Ø A = Assume Well. Based on the way people interact, we all make assumptions about others, sometimes without knowing the full story. For example, you might assume a young professional who wears jeans to the office is a slacker, when he really just can’t afford a suit and tie yet – or that a seasoned professional who doesn’t embrace new technology isn’t being a team player, when she is really just intimidated by what doesn’t come naturally to her. I urge you to resist the temptation to assume until you’ve asked the right questions.

Ø D = Demonstrate and Define. Great leaders act how they want others to act and thus lead by example. They define their expectations and provide feed-forward for their team. People need to know what’s expected of them – and when they are falling short of reaching goals. Likewise, reinforce excellence by announcing and rewarding it.

Good news. Ted took time to sit down with Renee, asked her where she thinks she’s doing well and where she needs to improve – and gave her a specific targets to hit. While Renee did not get the promotion the first time around, she was given the support she needed and a new opportunity to get there. And she just got promoted!

Rock on!

Misti Burmeister –

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