Byron's Babbles

Creating or Draining Energy?

LeadersReadyNow_cover_300pxThis post is an excerpt from the introduction to Leaders Ready Now: Accelerating Growth in a Faster World.

Instead of creating energy, your processes are draining it.

The fastest, most powerful learning experiences convert fear and uncertainty into pride and wisdom. Consider several examples:

  • A young, inexperienced leader takes on an assignment to lead a team of people older and more experienced than she.
  • An operations executive is suddenly given responsibility to run the IT function, which he knows nothing about.
  • A new CEO faces a sudden market crisis that requires a major strategic and cultural shift in direction.

Big first-time challenges like these administer a shock, instantly bringing the leader to attention. It’s a jolt of uncertainty that carries a current of doubt; but with effort, discipline, and support, that doubt transforms into action and movement. Ultimately, if and when the challenge is conquered, a backward glance leaves the leader with confidence and insight that can be applied to the next challenge. It is in conquering difficult assignments such as these that leaders become ready to take on bigger leadership roles.

The challenge is scaling this concept beyond isolated, reactive incidents and creating a repeatable dynamic that causes entire cadres of leaders to become ready. For most organizations, scale becomes structure, but structure without energy kills acceleration. It’s not uncommon for management to roll out learning initiatives to groups of anywhere from 10 to 10,000 people, after which those new processes become burdened with guidelines, meetings, documentation, mandatory events, and progress checks. Participants—often the company’s busiest people—work diligently to make time for a process that has many moving parts but little connection to what they view as mission critical. Soon, what was built to generate the energy of growth dissolves into apathy and annoyance at processes that seem (and may well be) devoid of business importance.

It is not the process itself that is failing—it is the absence of energy to fuel it. Without energy, any processes you put in place will be unsustainable. How to rally the initiatives? By reexamining the architecture of your acceleration efforts and rewriting the rules of the game so that more is at stake, more is to gain, and all the players have a clearer understanding of their roles and how they will have an impact on success. You must be far more aggressive in the use and application of your existing approaches, setting bigger development targets for more people earlier in their careers.

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Matthew J. Paese, Ph.D., is Vice President of Succession and C-Suite Services for Development Dimensions International (DDI). Matt’s work has centered on the application of succession, assessment, and development approaches as they apply to boards, CEOs, senior management teams, and leaders across the pipeline. He consults, coaches, speaks, and conducts research around all those topics and more.

Audrey B. Smith, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President for Global Talent Diagnostics at DDI. Audrey’s customer-driven innovation and global consulting insights have helped shape DDI’s succession, selection, and development offerings, from the C-suite to the front line. She has been a key strategist and solution architect, encompassing technology-enabled virtual assessments and development aligned to current business challenges.

William C. Byham, Ph.D., is Executive Chairman of DDI. He cofounded the company in 1970 and has worked with hundreds of the world’s largest organizations on executive assessment, executive development, and succession management. Bill authored Zapp!® The Lightning of Empowerment, a groundbreaking book that has sold more than 3 million copies. He has coauthored 23 other books, including seminal works on the assessment center method.

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