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The Key to Developing People

Recently, I, Susan, have been coaching Molly, a marketing executive in the hospitality business. Molly is responsible for marketing, event planning, reception and sales at a major resort in the US.

Molly got the VP position because she was incredibly sharp and successful. She started in event planning, taking the initiative in driving a series of marketing campaigns, landing large sales, and producing highly profitable events at the resort. Those successes resulted in a complimentary article in a travel magazine for the resort, resulting in a significant increase in business.

As a new VP, she was faced with a very different challenge. It was clear she’d been pulled into leadership with the intention of managing and developing other people to do what she had done.

When her department was experiencing a lot of turnover, Molly gave me a call. Her boss was pressuring her to turn her department around. She was frustrated and could not understand why people could not get the hang of the job.

The Interview Process

I had a chance to interview some of the people who had left and a few members of her current team. It became clear that Molly knew marketing but not much about managing and developing people.

This is not uncommon.

Often business leaders and new managers are great at doing their jobs, but it takes a very different set of skills to shift from doing a job to leading, managing and teaching the job.

Too often, new managers think people will just pick things up by watching how they themselves do it or simply learn by being thrown in. That generally doesn’t work. At best, you’ll end up with people trying to be you, or worse, you’ll frustrate people and they’ll quit!

This seemed to be the issue with Molly. The folks that had stayed, loved Molly and were determined to be like her. The people who had left were frustrated by Molly’s style of taking over and doing everything.

The Good Employee, Bad Employee Myth

Here’s the thing about employees and people in general, it’s not like there are good people and bad people. This is a mistake leaders tend to make, generalizing employees as “superstars” or “slackers”.

A task well done can earn a person superstar status and a bad job or poor performance sets the label as a slacker. That is just not how learning goes!

Yes, some people are quicker in some areas than others or may be more motivated to work hard. But in developing your team, generalizing people as good or bad is not helpful to you in becoming a successful leader.

When your people are failing it’s easy to say, “I need to find better people.” It’s much harder to take a look at how you might be contributing to the problem.

I suggest you follow these steps to achieve success as a leader managing people.

1. Break down the job into tasks. It’s important to look at a new task or job and break it down clearly into what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, how it needs to be done and by when.

2. Assess the person’s potential for success. Potential is the person’s ability (their technical, interpersonal and organizational skills) to do the task, plus their motivation (their desire, confidence and willingness to take responsibility) to do the task.

It’s not always easy to breakdown a new role or a new task and make an assessment. But it is the job of the leader or manager to do just that!

3. Apply the appropriate leadership style. Depending upon the person’s potential, you need to apply the most appropriate leadership style. Do they need more direction or more coaching or more consultation?

Backbone: If the person is new at a task and has low ability or motivation, you need to apply more backbone—show them how it is to be done, be more directive, tell them what to do more concretely.

Heart: If the person has experience at a task, with moderate to high ability and medium motivation, you may need to be more encouraging—ask them questions, reflect back what you hear them saying.

It takes different leadership styles to help someone who is starting a new task than it does to develop someone has been doing the same job a long time and is highly skilled.

Let’s Talk About Why

When someone is given a new role or task, even if they are your generalized “superstar,” they still need to learn. As a leader, it’s important that you’re aware of the stages of learning.

There are four stages of learning for someone learning a new task:

1. Unconscious Incompetence – "I don't know that I don't know how to do this."

This is the stage of blissful ignorance before learning begins.

Think of a new hire or someone just coming out of training or college. They don’t even know what they don’t know. This can even happen to a new leader, like Molly, in the area of developing and managing people. She didn’t know that she didn’t know.

2. Conscious Incompetence – "I know that I don't know how to do this, yet."

This is difficult stage, where learning really begins and where, as the learner, you experience the most struggle. It’s also the stage where most people give up without good leadership.

This is when things get difficult because this person knows they don’t know but they may not be willing to ask, or if they do ask, and they’re given a brush off answer like, “just watch and learn,” or “I will do it for you this time but you need to get this!” – they’ll want to quit.

This is where Molly was at her worse with her team. She is not alone. Leaders too often don’t know how to breakdown a new job or task and a new hire pays the price.

3. Conscious Competence – "I may be struggling, but I know that I know how to do this."

This stage of learning is much easier than the second stage, but it is still a bit uncomfortable and people may feel self-conscious.

This is the person we are thrilled to coach and can really help along. The leader’s job here is to make sure people know what they’re doing right and make sure they have what they need and how to get better.

4. Unconscious Competence – "What, you say I did something well?"

The final stage of learning a skill is when it has become a natural part of us. We don't have to think about it. We may not even realize what a good job we are doing.

This was Molly when she was in her marketing position, making events happen before she stepped into the new task of leadership. She had event planning and sales down, which is why she got the eye of leadership and a new role.

While Molly was at stage four in her marketing job, she was at stage one when it came to leading and managing people. No wonder she kept wanting to take over and do the job for them - that was where she was competent and comfortable!

Molly Stages of Learning

As I worked with Molly, I helped her begin to move through her own learning curve in terms of developing people. I encouraged her to start by breaking down the various roles and responsibilities that were now her responsibility to manage.

Next, I asked her to access people’s potential, in terms of their ability and their level of motivation for the different tasks they each had to do.

Initially, Molly did her own assessment through dialogue with me. Once she was comfortable and had some confidence in her ability to assess people’s ability and motivation, I encouraged her to begin having a dialogue with the people she was leading.

Having gone through a reality check about her own learning in a new role and job, it made it much easier for Molly to get what was going on with her team. She was much more curious and even able to be vulnerable in talking about her own learning curve in developing people.

It didn’t take Molly long to get things back on track. Soon she was more focused on her new job and doing much less of everyone else’s. She was now leading with backbone and heart, and things really took off!

The bottom line when it comes to developing people is that it’s really the leader or manager’s job to be clear in breaking down the job or task and then being able to offer the right style of leadership to help people through the learning curve.

Don’t blame your people if they are not performing the way you want. Instead, take a look at how you might be part of the problem and how you can help!

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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