A year ago, I welcomed a four-year-old (32 in human years) untrained Yorkshire Terrier into our family. It has not been the smoothest transition, but we have made great strides. There is an adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that doesn’t hold up well if the old dog wants to learn.
Growth is possible for everyone, no matter their age. We cannot define people by their past, and their history is not always a predictor of their future. We must let go of unrealistic expectations, which isn’t easy to do. I have gone from my home smelling like potpourri throughout, to the smell of dog urine in unexpected places. Yet, I am appreciative of the continued progress our Yorkie makes with consistent training.
Leadership is about enabling the full potential in others regardless the age or history. In this era of longevity, making assumptions about the learning capabilities of a multi-generational workforce is a mistake. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Be realistic that it may take a little longer than a young dog. But, once that old dog learns, it’s there for the long-term.
A common misconception is that you are either a leader or a follower. The reality is that we all lead in some way (influence) and we all follow something or someone (religion, etc.).
Operationally, you will always have someone to report to, no matter where you are in the food chain. Corporate culture is pretty straightforward: entry-level employees reports to a supervisor, supervisors reports to a manager, managers reports to an executive, executives reports to a senior executive, and the CEO reports to the board or other key stakeholders.
In our effort to master the skills of leadership, we tend to lose sight that there is more to the leadership equation. For leaders to lead, they need exceptional talent and the ability to attract followers. They also need to master the art of humbly following others.
Being a good follower teaches us how to value the contributions others make, as well as develop our emotional intelligence. It doesn’t matter how many followers we have. We still share the same vulnerabilities, shortcomings, and struggles as other human beings.
Many leaders could accomplish more if they became aware of their need for personal growth and development for themselves and others. “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” Aristotle
An important factor in creating a high-performance workplace is instilling a high-development culture – one that values the growth of individuals. So, where do companies go wrong with employee development?
1. Hiring the wrong person from the start. Systematize how you hire (E.g., Use a validated assessment for key organizational hires such as managers/leaders).
2. Managers hoarding talent on their teams. Build-in strategies to bust talent hoarding (E.g., Establish a program that enables employees who have been in a role for a set period to apply for new assignments).
3. Assigning projects that meet business needs but don’t develop humans. Leverage managers who use project resourcing as a vehicle for development (E.g., Regular conversations with associates help ensure that assignments align with both organizational needs and individual strengths-based development).
4. Promotions that only look upward. Promote value in alternate development paths (E.g., Diagonal growth could mean doing the same tasks with a new division/client).
5. Career arcs that leave tenured associates without a clear path forward. Strategically plan options for tenured associates (E.g., Senior employees become paid consultants/mentors).
Change can be a difficult pill to swallow, especially in organizations accustomed to systematic routines and practices. However, as society advances, change is the only link to future success. Here are five insights into becoming a catalyst for change.
1. Don’t push harder – Adding more information or more good reasons to do something will not move people into action. Adding more pressure only creates more resistance.
2. Offer a choice – Give people two to three options. This makes them feel more in control of the decision and therefore, more open to change.
3. Point out the costs of the status quo – People tend to ignore small problems, but by shedding new light on these flaws and pointing out how they compound over time, you can make the inconvenience of change look more appealing than the cost of inaction.
4. Ask for less – Start by asking for a small, manageable change, and when that has been made, ask for another. Big shifts do not happen right away, but one step at a time.
5. Lower the barrier – Whether it’s a new product, service, idea, or #behavior, a new way of doing things means uncertainty. Offer a “trial run” to allow people to convince themselves of the value they’re being offered.