Why Professional Development Plans Don't Work

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yes, you read the title correctly. A leadership firm that offers executive coaching and training is featuring a blog post on why professional development plans don't work. So, what gives? It's really this simple, professional development plans don't work when the person who is supposed to learn, grow, and improve from the development plan isn't invited to give input on the process.

For instance, have you ever been told that someone is going to mentor you? How did that experience work for you? My guess is not too well. That's because the most critical component of the mentoring process is that the mentee gets to choose the mentor.

Likewise, have you ever been asked to participate in coaching only to have no say in who will provide feedback on you, the content areas that will be discussed, the coaching outcomes associated with each content area, and/or whether the assigned coach is a good "fit" for you? If so, it's likely that coaching plan did not achieve the desired results. Why? Because it's difficult to fully engage in a process that doesn't value your foundational input.

Finally, have you ever attended a training session in which you asked a critical (though slightly off-topic) question? Did the trainer duck it without offering to address it later in private? If so, you've been the victim of a trainer who is too focused on his/her subject matter and not focused enough on his/her audience. I'm a believer in addressing the assigned/announced topic, but when a participant asks a question, it's likely because he/she has an emergent issue to address. At worst, that means I should be flexible enough to take up that matter on a break. At best, I should be able to see if the entire audience perked up when the question was asked and realize the answer may help everyone in attendance.

I am proud to say that Ethos takes into account the opinions, thoughts, and needs of the professionals we work with because their input is what turns an otherwise non-descript activity set into a unique professional development approach that generates results. If your organization needs professional development plans that work, feel free to reach out to us!


Have You Considered Reading...

Photo courtesy of Surachai, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Surachai, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recently, I've had several people ask which leadership books I highly recommend, so I thought I would share my current recommendations below. If you've read any of these books, I'd be interested in your comments on them. And, if you have recommendations for me, I'm always adding books to my reading list.  Becky

  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (John Maxwell) - remains one of my favorite leadership books because of its practical application. I find it particularly useful for new leaders.
  • Five Temptations of a CEO (Patrick Lencioni) - written as a fable, it's helpful in understanding the choices that often derail leaders.
  • Leading Change (John Kotter) - as the name implies, it's an excellent study of the framework necessary to create lasting change in an organization.
  • Wooden on Leadership (John Wooden and Steve Jamison) - lessons from one of the most successful basketball coaches in history, this book provides thoughts on leadership that can be applied at home, in community service, and at work.
  • Leadership and Self-Deception (The Arbinger Institute) - another fable/story that yields powerful lessons about how easy it is for leaders to convince themselves they are doing the right things for the right reasons...and be wrong.
  • 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene) - often use this book to remind myself (and others) of the similarities and distinctions between leadership and power.

Hide Your Goats

Photo courtesy of Peter Haken, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Peter Haken, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recently had a dialogue with a client who was sharing his frustrations about the many people who were "getting to him" lately. As I listened to his lament and reflected on the possibility that several of his recent challenges were self-induced, I remembered the wise words of an Ethos colleague who once suggested in a presentation, "If you don't want someone to get your goat, don't tell people where you tie it up." 

I chuckled at the time, and did again as I was typing that sentence, but I love the concept. As leaders, I don't think we have to appear unflappable at all times, but I believe it's in our best interests to avoid getting bent out of shape over every little thing.

Those "bent out of shape" moments reveal our goats. And while I believe it's inevitable that someone will find one of our goats, I also believe it's even more likely that someone will intentionally seek out that goat again if we over-react when it's seen the first time. Call me cynical (I prefer "realist"), but I suspect you work with some people who go looking for your goats!

I don't know where your goats are tied up, but if you find yourself with a whole herd of them, it might be time to get rid of a few. And if you can't get rid of them, at least you need to tie them up out of sight. 

Here's to some goat-herding!


Leadership Succession as Demonstrated by a Wrestling Legend

Photo from TMZ Sports, TMZ.com

Photo from TMZ Sports, TMZ.com

In early April, my favorite professional wrestler presumably announced his retirement by simply removing the items that were long associated with his character and leaving them in the ring. Mark Calaway (AKA: the Undertaker) has long been heralded as "old-school" due to his commitment to his character (never breaking kayfabe, which is the portrayal of staged events within the industry as "real" or "true") and his willingness to fight through injuries to entertain the fans. And it appears he lived up to that "old-school" moniker one last time in his final match and departure.

Many of you may be thinking, "Becky, you've lost your mind. First, you admit to liking professional wrestling and now you want us to think this has something to do with leadership. How in the world does the apparent retirement of a professional wrestler have anything to do with leadership succession?" I'm really glad you asked!

Wrestling has always had this unwritten code that when a wrestler retires, he/she should do so while helping another wrestler "get over" as part of his/her last feud and match. In effect, the "old-school" expectation is for a wrestler to use his/her retirement in such a way that it allows the next generation to become a strong "face" (the crowd favorite) or "heel" (the most hated). While some recent wrestling retirees have chosen to have their last matches with an opponent that's already a legend, Undertaker maintained his commitment to the "old-school" ways by trying to help Roman Reigns (a younger wrestler who's struggled to truly be face or heel) "get over." Whether that will be successful is hotly debated on social media, but regardless of whether it's successful, Undertaker recognized that his departure isn't just about him leaving; it's also about those who will have to replace him.

And, that's the primary succession lesson I wish other leaders would learn - you've worked hard, and you've earned the accolades that come with retirement, but recognize someone else has to step in and fill your role, so try to help him/her "get over" to a "face" if you have the opportunity. Too often, I think leaders see the next person who has to fill the role as the enemy. As if that person will somehow make everyone forget about the previous leader's positive contributions. I can assure you that doesn't happen. Because no matter how great of a character Roman Reigns becomes, no one can replace the Undertaker. But, they can stand side-by-side as legends in the future. And you could do that too with your successor, if you allowed it to happen.

I also wish leaders would recognize that it's okay to leave their "gear" in the ring. When Mark Calaway took off his coat, gloves, and hat, and stacked them neatly in the ring, he signaled that he would not return to that ring as the Undertaker again. While a small part of me hopes that it's a ruse and Undertaker will rise again, the larger part of me respects his willingness to leave all of himself out there in that moment, and walk away to a new adventure. I don't know exactly how Mark will spend his retirement, but I'm pretty sure he won't try to keep the Undertaker legacy alive. Don't get me wrong; I think he'll sign autographs for fans and acknowledge who he was in that ring, but I don't think he'll spend his time clinging to the glory days. Instead, I can see him pursuing completely different activities while still making himself available to mentor and coach aspiring wrestlers. As leaders, once our time in an organization is done, we need to leave that part of our work behind, and focus on other endeavors. Continued efforts to actively influence the organization can be dangerous. What we can do is encourage and challenge other leaders, wherever they may be.

In short, leadership succession fails when leaders aren't willing to help the next leader succeed and/or when leaders aren't willing to let go. I think Mark Calaway showed us how to do both, and that may be the part of his career I value most.

Thank you, Taker!

Leaders Must Answer Three Critical Questions

Photo courtesy of Pansa, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Pansa, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My business partner, Dr. James A. Johnson, has been a strong leader for 30+ years. It's one of the reasons that I am honored and blessed to work alongside him in Ethos. I've learned a lot from James over the last thirteen years, but perhaps one of my favorite lessons is one that he introduced a couple of years ago in a leadership workshop.

In that session, James said that in our encounters with others, they are silently asking themselves three questions about us:

Do you really care about me?

How can you help me?

Can I trust you?

I've been testing James' observation in my encounters since then by trying to demonstrate that I do care, that I can help, and that I am trustworthy. How I have done that in each situation has been unique to the moment and the individual(s) I encountered, and I have to admit that the responses I've received when I've been intentional about answering those three critical questions have typically exceeded my expectations.

I share this because I think many leaders fail to address those questions, particularly with people they have been leading for some period of time. And, while I believe leadership relationships grow to the point that most people know the answers to those questions in a global context, each new situation poses a potential risk/threat to those we are leading, and it means we have to be intentional about answering the questions again (and again, and again).

How can you demonstrate you care, you can help, and you can be trusted?