Leadership Development and Executive Coaching are some sort of adult learning. One might assume that the more senior – which often equals “older” – a person is, the less receptive to learning they might be. According to my observations as executive coach, that is not the case though.
Willingness to change or lack of intelligence is not an issue either. Executives who receive coaching are smart, ambitious, and ready to change. Overusing these strengths however is what gets into the way of their personal growth. Or more precisely: it makes the their own leadership development less enjoyable and more stressful.
The three major obstacles in the leadership development of executives are
- a lack of understanding what specifically needs to be developed
- a lack of understanding how learning processes really work, and
- a lack of measurement of progress.
The frustration starts with not knowing what needs to be developed, often referred to as the stage of unconscious incompetence: a manager wants to deliver better results, he/she wants the team to work more autonomously, or he/she may prepare to take the next career step – but he/she has not identified yet what exactly needs to be improved.
Tools like 360 degree feedbacks, stake holder interviews, or an MBTI assessment may easily give you the answer to what gaps need to be closed. Once people have understood what has been keeping them from being more successful, they have moved to the next stage of competence development: conscious incompetence. They know now what has been holding them back, and they understand what they have to do to improve. And so they also get to the next stage of frustration because their ambition gets into the way: once they know what needs to be done, they want change to happen instantly. That’s good as far as motivation is concerned. However, lacking the understanding how learning processes work, the leadership development process turns out frustrating and tedious. Ambitious managers want to achieve perfection in a new skill overnight but this is just not going to happen.
Strangely though, everyone seems to accept that skill development in other areas need time: running a marathon, playing the piano, or learning a new language. But when it comes to leadership development, managers give in to the reality distortion field, and they want to change the whole world in a week. Or less.
It’s amazing how adaptable we humans are – but we need to accept that any serious adaptation takes a considerable amount of time. Latest since Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers we know that “the magic number for true expertise (is) ten thousand hours.”
Relax, you may not need 10,000 hours to get rid of an unproductive habit, improve your time management, or become better at motivation your team members. But you want to be patient and not set yourself up for unnecessary frustration along the way.
Patient now? Ok, here’s your third reason for frustration in your leadership development: you are not acknowledging your progress.
Have you ever been on a diet to lose weight? Then you have probably experienced that you were making daily incremental changes, too small for you to notice. Maybe you didn’t see how your appearance changed until your pants were suddenly too wide, or an old pal who you hadn’t met for a while told you how slim you suddenly were. (Sometimes we may very well hear the opposite comments though…)
The same applies for learning processes: if you don’t measure your progress, you may not be aware of any progress at all. And thinking you’re not making progress is frustrating.
I was working with one coaching client on time management and effectiveness at work. He only realized his tremendous progress once the time for the annual appraisal had come, and his boss rated him much higher than he had rated himself. What a nice surprise! But imagine how being aware of this progress earlier would have been so much more enjoyable and how it would have boosted his self-confidence. Constantly underestimating your own capabilities is not only frustrating; it may lead to unnecessary and unhealthy anxiety and self-doubts.
For people on a diet monitoring progress objectively is quite easy: they get on a balance on a daily basis. Monitoring your leadership skills may need a bit more creativity, but it’s possible: think of KPIs that are linked to these skills or simply ask people for feedback.
In summary, here are three simple steps to make your personal growth much more enjoyable and rewarding:
- Explore what gaps you need to close to take the next step. Very helpful tools for that are 360 degree feedbacks, stake holder interviews, or assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. A confidant like a coach or mentor can help you plan specific development steps.
- Accept that every learning process takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. No one was born a master. Etc.
- Measure progress objectively by monitoring KPIs or getting feedback from others regularly. Take one step at a time and acknowledge small wins.
Have fun learning!