Let’s face it; the road to the top is not always a straight line. Matter of fact, in most cases it’s a combination of a number of factors that strike the exact chord a company executive is looking for in an up-and-coming leader.
While these traits, characteristics and skills are not mutually exclusive and there is no silver bullet, there are common abilities that transcend the personal preference of any one individual. The capability of employees to grow above and beyond their technical skill and education, will determine how they rank among other colleagues.
A recent conversation between high-level executives and university presidents sparked a discussion about what is truly valued in the workplace. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the technical skills, but rather the graduate’s ability to work effectively within the already existing structure. If knowledge is no longer the deciding factor due to how common the college degree has become, how does one differentiate him/herself from others? What is your UN-common denominator?
In navigating the current office environment and politics, how does one become a master navigator using a GPS that is calibrated to improving intangible characteristics to drive for very tangible results?
In a training session this past week I engaged a number of young CPAs at their state conference in discussing the idea of being able to navigate their environment. What we found was that we all, at one time or another, find ourselves needing to battle with the intangible side of the workplace: individual personalities.
Through this session the group covered a number of topics that could be used to help them create their plan of attack for maximizing their potential for success. Throughout the session participants referred to a ‘roadmap’ that helped guide them through the concepts. Click here to view the roadmap
Identify your playing field
The first stop along the trip was to identify a challenge that they were currently facing in the workplace, and not a task related issue, but a people related problem. Challenges that emerged were things like communication, poor behavior, receiving feedback, productivity, and meeting deadlines. From this list of challenges, participants were then asked to identify their sphere of influence. Who were the people they were involved with that were creating these challenges?
This exercise gave us the basis for the discussions that came from the rest of the session. Now that we had a real-life and practical example, we could apply each component to a situation that was relative.
It’s an interesting experience for someone when you ask, ‘What is your value?’ I’m sure most of us never consider the idea that we might either be adding or subtracting value from an organization. But here’s the thing, in a society where education is common, we can no longer depend solely on our technical knowledge to set us apart. Therefore, we must find ways to add additional value to an organization. Value can appear in a number of ways. Maybe it’s one’s ability to be a team player, or make critical decisions; maybe it’s in the way decisions are made or problems are solved. Whichever it is, you should continually ask yourself ‘what value am I adding in the current situation I’m in?’ When you attend an office meeting are you bringing the full weight of your skills to the table, or simply watching the time pass by? I’ve seen both, and I always found it interesting how many people could have disappeared and it wouldn’t have affected the progress of the group at all.
In the book The Extraordinary Leader, Zenger and Folkman conducted an assessment of 25,000 leaders and over 250,000 360 Evaluations, and were able to determine a number of critical factors or traits that were routinely present in those leaders who were successful (Character, Personal Capabilities, Results, Interpersonal Skills and Leading Change). Interestingly, the traits could be broken down into two categories: Results and Interpersonal Skills, and according to Zenger and Folkman the study was able to provide insight into which type of leader, one that was more results focus or one that was focused on interpersonal relationships, was more likely to succeed.
According to their research, leaders who focused solely on results were 16% more likely to be successful, as opposed to leaders who focused on interpersonal skills, in which only 9% were likely to succeed. However, the ‘ah ha’ actually came when the authors identified the success rate for those who possessed both traits. For leaders able to achieve results, while maintaining interpersonal relationships, they were 66% more likely to succeed,more than double the sum of the sole traits combined.
With this seminar the focus quickly became the CPA group’s ability to build skill on the interpersonal side. This was especially difficult, since the majority of them were evaluated on their ability to achieve results. However, one could say that the ability to achieve results is directly correlated to effective management of others and the ability to work effectively in a team environment.
Preference v. Skill
Now that we had built our case for why it was critical to be able to possess a variety of skills in order to successfully navigate the work environment, the next stop on our roadmap was giving the group the tools to understand personality types and how one’s type drives his/her behavior. Using the concepts of Carl Jung, Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs, and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, participants were able to find out where they themselves gathered their energy from, how they took in information, how they made decisions and how they ordered their lives, but more importantly, at the end of this stop, they could also begin the exploration into the MBTI Type of their counterpart that was causing them problems.
No matter what assessment tool you use, the ability to identify the drivers of one’s behavior becomes critical when needing to figure out a way to address related issues.
Communication and Stress Related Blowouts
Having a basic understanding of their personality style and that of their counterpart gave them the ability to explore, with detail, the styles that form how we communicate. If you’re a regular reader of NDCBlogger, you’ve heard us use the term ‘Bait the Hook to Suit the Fish’ before, which implies that for us to maximize our ability to influence and persuade, we must be able to flex the way we communicate to the way in which the other person prefers to be communicated. This is much like the idea that the kind of bait we use when we go fishing is dependent upon what we’re trying to catch.
According to Paul Mok there are four distinct communication styles that we possess, and of those four we each have two dominant styles. If you’re a Sensor-Producer you’re focused on getting things done, for the Intuitor it’s more about the big picture and possibilities, the Thinker is constantly looking for the correct answer, while the Feeler is more concerned with relational harmony. Each one of these styles comes with its own set of quarks and preferences, and yet, they all bring value in their own unique way.
Unfortunately though, when put under pressure, these styles have been known to have blowouts, much like the tire on a car. As our participants in the seminar rounded a corner on their roadmaps, their vehicle had a blow out, and thus required them to explore the cause of the blowout and how they might correct it. The way we do this when driving a vehicle is much like how we must approach it in the office environment. Under stress we all are prone to blowouts and participants were asked to refer back to the problem individual they had identified in the beginning, and see if the difficult behavior they were experiencing was in any way due to stress and/or pressure.
This concept of extreme behavior uses the four communication styles and attributes each style to a corresponding extreme. For example, if I am a sensor producer and under normal conditions my focus is about getting the task done and off my to-do list, under pressure I might exude extreme control over a situation, bulldozing my way to the finish line and leaving anyone slower than I in my wake. Below are the corresponding extremes for this concept.
Willingness to grow
Finally I asked the group along their trip, ‘what assumptions or opinions do you have
that are holding you back?’ We all develop beliefs, and unfortunately
these beliefs can sometimes create obstacles for us. Much like a teacup
that is filled to the brim so that nothing new can be poured in, we sometimes
fill ourselves to overflowing and are unwilling to empty something out in order
to learn something new. For this group it could have been the assumption
that they would attend this conference and find nothing of value in it, but
unless they emptied a little out and moved themselves to a place of openness
they surely would fulfill their own prophecy.
And so I ask you, what are you willing to empty out in order to let something new in?
The group finished their trip by developing some tangible goals for themselves and were excited to apply what they had learned when they returned to their office. I encourage you to begin to focus more on the opposing individual and how you might flex your style, rather than becoming so rigid that you run the risk of breaking under the pressure.
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