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Business Management Leadership Development

You can’t coast uphill

A few weeks ago I was back in Canada for a few days and had quite a bit of rare free time early in the morning to listen to a workshop I’ve been enjoying. The topic on this episode was about maintaining one’s spiritual condition, and they said something I just loved, which is that you can’t coast uphill, only downhill. The point was that often in life we work really hard in pursuit of a particular goal, and then when we achieve it, there’s a tendency to think we can just rest there, stop all the effort, and continue to enjoy the fruits of all that labor. We call that coasting, but as the speakers remind us, you can only coast downhill. In other words, once you stop working, you stop growing, and once you stop growing, you start dying.

You know sometimes you hear something and it’s like it was made just for you in just your situation? This was one of those times. And I especially love it because it works for me in so many areas of life.

Obviously in terms of spiritual growth, all the benefits I receive from the praying, meditating, and rigorous honesty will slowly (or quickly) disappear if I don’t keep doing the work. I can’t stay serene on yesterday’s actions, only today’s.

I also see a tendency in myself to coast when it comes to my health and fitness. I can adhere to a clean and healthy diet with some excellent workouts and then once I start seeing results, I feel like I can stop and keep the results. I’m not sure why I have to keep repeating this experiment – maybe writing about it will cement it into my head…you only coast downhill – back to where you started.

This is also true for us as leaders. We laugh about the Peter Principle (at least, my age peers do), which is the concept that people rise to the level of their incompetence. I don’t know about that, but I have seen time and time again leaders who assume they’ve arrived and so stop doing the things that made them awesome and promote-able in the first place. Things like self-development activities, learning, asking their team what they need. And once those behaviors stop, there’s definitely some coasting…downhill. That’s when people report feeling burned out, and when their bosses or subordinates notice that they’ve changed, somehow.

I know our brains are wired to conserve energy, so maybe that’s why we’re intrinsically predisposed to coast, but today I’m challenging myself to dig in and keep getting better. Not because I want to be perfect, but because I don’t want to end up where I started.

Who’s with me?

And for all you all or nothing thinkers out there (guilty), this doesn’t mean you have to sign up for another degree or take on something huge. Small steps are still progress; still movement; still keeping you from coasting. So read a book that gets you thinking, maybe listen to a podcast, watch a TED Talk. There are a lot of small things you can do to keep yourself fresh. I, for example, have just started reading Fierce Leadership, by Susan Scott (She wrote Fierce Conversations, which I loved). If you have more capacity or want faster growth, there’s coaching, peer groups, classes…the list has as many possibilities as you do!

I’d love to hear what you’re doing right now to keep growing. Or what you’re committing to do. And as always, if you liked this article, please share the love, and join my newsletter for additional tips and special access to some of the leadership and management tools I’ve developed.

Carrie Maldonado, is an organizational development consultant, author, and speaker. Today’s Leadership Solutions is a Seattle-based consulting firm dedicated to providing business owners peace of mind and job fulfillment by ensuring their management teams are equipped to run their businesses successfully. With certified executive coaches, organizational development experts and HR Professionals, we consult with small to medium sized businesses on management, leadership, and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. We can be reached for consultation at info@todaysleadershipsolutions.com.

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Business Management coaching Leadership Development New Managers organizational development Training

Three “AHA”s needed for your managers to be truly teachable

If you are a business owner you know that once your company grows to a certain size, your success depends on the success of your managers. I recommend basic training for all new managers, whether they’re new to management in general, or new to managing in your company. Before you invest one cent or minute in training, though, you should be sure that the ground is fertile. In other words, is your company cultivating a culture that supports a heart of teachability in your managers?

At the heart of successful training is successful learning, and the heart of successful learning is being teachable, and the heart of being teachable is being vulnerable. Ugh. Being vulnerable enough to be teachable is one of the most difficult challenges anyone can master in life, and failing to grasp it will (not might, will) limit your growth in every circumstance. There are significant barriers to experiencing this vulnerability, both internal and external, and my experience is that how we deal with the discomfort of vulnerability varies depending on gender, age, and culturally.

In order to be teachable, the first ‘aha’ needs to be an awareness that there’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. Sometimes the gap is obvious and doesn’t really need to be pointed out. For example, if you haven’t been given a promotion to management that you aspire to, you are all too aware of this. Other times it’s not so obvious. This is that area of unconscious incompetence that was developed at Gordon Training International, and basically means that you have to know you don’t know something before you can learn it (simple, right?).

Once someone becomes aware of a need for training, the next step is to access that training. If you have a healthy, intact ego and a healthy, non-toxic culture, it’s a relatively painless process to explain the need to training and education to your boss. Here is unfortunately where so many people get blocked. Here are some of the thoughts that block new managers from seeking help:

  • I should already know this
  • My boss thinks I should already know this
  • If they find out I don’t already know this, they’ll demote/fire me

In an unhealthy and toxic culture, this fear is actually perpetrated by senior management. I’ve known business owners and senior leaders who want their managers to remain in a state of insecurity because it keeps them from asking for more money (really, this happens), and/or are otherwise vested in keeping the people who work for them feeling slightly unsafe. They will usually say it’s to keep people ‘hungry’ or ‘competitive’ but it’s pretty much nothing more than a raging case of narcissism or deep insecurity.

The second ‘aha’ needs to be a realization that you can acquire the skills necessary to thrive in your role. Your level of self-efficacy, or belief in your ability to learn, is directly correlated to your success. Dr. Carol Dweck has proven that our mindset determines our teachability. The more we believe certain things are innate, as in we have them or we don’t, the less likely we are to seek out or embrace training and coaching. When we talk about ‘born leaders’, we’re actually discouraging people from asking for help, because the assumption is that if you need help, you’re not cut out for your role. A growth mindset, on the other hand, values progress over perfection and is perfectly suited for training and coaching. If you as a senior leader don’t intentionally create a growth mindset in your culture and with your managers, you will find yourself with a singularly unteachable team.

The third ‘aha’ is a belief that this training will actually improve your performance. The problem with a lot of management training is that your managers can become jaded if it is too general to be useful, or if there’s a new ‘most important thing’ every month. Before investing in training, make sure you understand what is going to be taught, how it will be taught, and how relevant it is for your managers. If you do your homework, you’ll have a stronger belief in the outcome, and your confidence will be contagious. Once your managers are confident the training will help, they’ll be more receptive (teachable) and more likely to implement what they’ve learned. The success they experience will reinforce them to keep going. On the other hand, if you say something along the lines of “I’m going to send you to a seminar today. I have no idea if it’s any good, but we got a discount from our vendor, so you might as well check it out”, do you want to guess how likely it is that whomever you’re sending will be very teachable?

So vulnerability, mindset, and belief in the value of the training are all critical components of teachability, without which you really should reconsider investing in training at all. Although you obviously aren’t in control of your managers’ teachability, you can definitely set the stage for a culture of successful learning and development, which creats a high-performance, high-impact culture!

For a more in depth discussion about how these all work together, click here.
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Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at carrie@todaysleadershipsolutions.com