Coach’s Corner Blog

The Most Important Development Question for Any Leader

March 18, 2016 by Leave a Comment

Pointing the Finger

Jack Welch is the former CEO of General Electric and is respected widely not only for his stewardship of this preeminent company but also for his consistent support for the development of leaders at GE and in business in general.

I saw a recent article about him in Business Insider where he mentions the following:

Over the past 15 years, I’ve held Q&A sessions with over a million people at more than a thousand events around the world.

In all but a handful of these events, people bring up their bosses – and vent about them. This topic comes up without fail, no matter where I am, or what industry or company I’m speaking to.

The troubles range from, “My boss is too difficult and demanding” to “My boss doesn’t really care about me, it’s all about her” to “I’ve been busting my butt and my boss just doesn’t recognize my performance — he feels that everyone is equally wonderful” to “There’s no focus on how much you do, it’s who you know.” I can’t think of a lament I haven’t heard.

The basic question is the same … People want to know what they should do in these situations. “I just can’t stand it. Do I quit? Do I ask for a transfer?” “Do I go above the boss to his or her boss?” Or “Am I just plain stuck with this guy?””

Welch said that after considering this recently, he came up with a better question that all leaders should ask of themselves:

Would you want to work for … you?

What insights can this question provide to you as a leader? Could this assist you in understanding how you could be more effective in being better leaders and also, in how to better subordinates as well?

I think this can be very powerful, but it made me reflect on a very painful lesson I learned about this as well.

In my last corporate assignment, I had 6 bosses and went through 5 CEOs in just over 7 years. I lead a large team and one area of responsibility was leadership development.

I decided to explore if a 360° assessment from the Center for Creative Leadership would be an effective tool for us to use. I solicited input for this and received my feedback as a part of a three-day training session for this highly respected leadership tool.

We received our individual feedback at the end of the first day of the session and had to analyze the results and discuss them the next morning with one of the facilitators.

The bad news is that my team’s assessment of this key question, “Would they want to work … for me?”, was pretty much a resounding “NO!”.

To say that I got “slammed” by the feedback is a bit of an understatement.

Our organization had undergone a consistent diet of very difficult organizational transitions and uncertainty and disruption were the norm. I was a very driven leader and my team was well thought of in terms of what we were able to produce. But the feedback that I received very clearly let me know that although the matter was fine, my manner left a lot to be desired.

I immediately called my boss, Jim, to discuss this. Interestingly, Jim worked directly for Jack Welch when Welch headed the GE Plastics business. I respected Jim a great deal, especially his easy-going but very direct style. I described my feedback to Jim and complained that this certainly could not be an accurate reflection of all of my hard work and all that my team and I had accomplished.

His immediate response was, “Are you sure about that, Willy?”

I had only worked for Jim for about nine months and we had never had a formal review yet, but I always enjoyed our conversations and found that I learned things from him on a regular basis. So he told me that although he had a lot of confidence in me getting things done, he had recently gotten some feedback that I could be harsh, dismissive and a less-than-pleasant fellow from time to time.

He reinforced my contributions and his confidence in my potential, but he stressed that this feedback was probably one of the best things that could happen to me, no matter how painful it may feel at the present time. That is if I handled it well.

Jim was a great sounding board for me as I prepared to give the feedback to my team about my results and to solicit their support in helping me develop into a much more effective leader.

Over the next several years, my responsibilities expanded significantly and I worked diligently to ensure that I was a leader that my team not only respected, but who could truthfully say that they valued their interactions with me.

In a recent post I spoke about how we are often reluctant to solicit feedback and what to do about it. The feedback may be uncomfortable to receive, but I assure you it’s better to know how you are perceived and continuously work to improve than to be unaware and get hit with some unpleasant news right between the eyes like I did.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I willing to ask: Would you want to work for … me?
  • Do you know how to accept the feedback of your team and demonstrate the value you place on their candid input?
  • Are you willing to develop an action plan that will encourage those who provided you input to partner with you in making improvements and enhancing your leadership effectiveness?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Photo Credit: a2gemma / CC

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