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I Wish I Knew, A Four-Part Series for Leaders…!

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Resources. Their qualifications, their availability, their ability to deliver is always top of mind for the C-Suite. But what optimizes talent within an organization? It’s really more talent alignment than talent management. Alignment of talent to value added: do you have your tribe? Do you have your people in the right seats on the bus? Are they going in the right direction? And how do you know? There are four questions you want to answer to get the most “juice for the squeeze” from your talent:

Are my people ready for leadership?

I wish I knew if my people are ready for the next step. How do I know, and who are those people? I get into this conversation with different people at different times. A CEO of a fast-growing tech consultancy. A VP of Operations at a large engineering firm. Private equity CEOs…

ClearPeg takes a targeted approach to this question. We don’t need to identify your superstars; you know who they are, and you’ve often wished you could clone them. The top ten percent or so at any organization are working at maximum capacity and productivity. And if you push them any harder than they’re already pushing themselves, you might push them right out the door, because they know they’re already giving you 100%.

The other end of the spectrum isn’t the “sweet spot” either. Among the lower 20%, most entry-level employees are just not ready yet. They’re learning about your organization, and have their hands full getting up to speed with their current responsibilities. And there are others who are strictly “9 to 5” – for whom work is just work. It’s a paycheck and not much else to them. Usually, you’re wasting your time trying to motivate them to become leaders.

We focus on the range between these two extremes, mid-level professionals who are ready for more. They’re transitioning from being individual contributors to team leaders. Often, they’ve been left to their own devices, and they’re picking up what they can from the internet, TED Talks or YouTube or such. If they’ve received any professional training, it’s been rather basic and superficial. Companies don’t invest in personal development like they did 10-20 years ago, or even five years ago.

Other than on-the-job experience and christening by fire, how do you find your new leaders? Do you just throw them into the deep end and see if they can swim? What happens when it backfires? When your “best” people alienate their team – or worse, the client – and don’t have the tools to fix the problem? Now you have to get on a plane to calm the waters when you’ve got a million other problems jostling for your attention.

Okay. Now you’ve identified potential future leaders from that swathe in the middle. Will they stay? How do you grow them? These people – your top candidates, your future leaders – need a safe place to develop their skills. A judgment-free space to have a conversation about the challenges they face. We’ve found that, with just a bit of empathic intervention, this cohort can become five to ten times more productive within a very short time.

Are my people ready for coaching?

I wish I knew who will respond to coaching. When are they ready? Everyone can benefit from coaching, but not everyone is coachable or ready to be coached. So let’s identify a core group within this sweet spot and give them what they need to thrive, so you get the greatest “return on effort” – that’s right, effort, because if you don’t put in any effort, you can’t really expect to get results.

First and foremost, we focus on growth-minded individuals; we’ve found that they are excellent candidates for coaching. Let’s consider the top five attributes of growth-minded people:

  • They’re 100% accountable. They’re going to get things done, and they’re not blaming someone else.

  • They don’t compare themselves to others. They’re not envious of others’ success or wins.

  • They’re focused on becoming experts in their fields. They want to bring something special to the table. They have a passion for being the best that they can be, whether it’s technical, functional, organizational, or contractual.

  • They don’t fixate on their failures. They want to learn from their mistakes and do better next time.

  • They do the work and put in the time. They’re willing to invest the necessary effort – time to build, internalize, connect the dots, and use lessons learned to move forward.

But it’s not just about possessing growth-minded attributes or being a subject matter expert. There are three other elements that we find essential to success – both for coaching, and for developing leadership skills: communication (worthy of a deep dive which we’ll get to at a later date), conceptual fit – understanding how you fit within your organization and how to leverage your skills and experience to support its mission, and fluidity – being able to think on your feet and adapt to changing circumstances.

“Let’s run off to California and have some fun!” If I trust you and value time spent with you, I’m game. You say the word and I’m there. But if the trust’s not there, I’m not going to the corner store with you. So how do you get your employees to agree to coaching? There’s a chance that, when it’s first offered, the coachee will “freak out” – is this a punishment? Our first remit is to establish an open, safe space for communication. In our experience, they’ll likely soon recognize that this is just what they need, exactly when they need it. It’s an opportunity for executive development, and this obvious investment in their future brings the added benefit of making them feel valued and appreciated. And this yields another incidental benefit: it tends to insulate them from poaching or leaving.

Are my people in the right roles?

I’ve got a battle to fight. I wish I knew if everyone is in alignment, or will they “run for the hills” when the first shots are fired? When your company drives change and innovation and regularly takes on risk, you know how important it is to have a team that supports your mission.

Here’s an example: I once took on a new role reporting to the president of an industrial chemicals company, who put me in charge of operations. My first assignment? “You need to fire these two senior managers.” Wait a minute! I wasn’t sure that I agreed with that decision, and I knew both of these employees. I didn’t just jump and act. I worked to understand the current state of things and how we’d gotten to this place. I needed to make sure of the right move before making an irreversible and likely litigation-prone decision.

When I looked over their CVs, I started to understand. We had a very technical person – a Master’s in Chemical Engineering – in a “people person” role. He was most decidedly not a “people person!” A perfectly nice guy, but utterly out of his depth in interpersonal negotiations. Meanwhile, they had an excellent “people guy” handling a deeply technical process involving specialty chemicals, a job for which he lacked the necessary background. We had our “tribe” but we had them in the wrong places. And firing both of them would mean that we’d have no tribe at all. I sat down with each of them, asking if they’d consider moving to the other’s role. Sure they would! So we literally switched them, resulting in dramatic improvements. To the president, it seemed like magic. But really, it was the result of active listening and follow-through, important traits we cultivate at ClearPeg.

Can we learn to think critically and move on opportunities quickly?

I wish I knew if we have what it takes to deliver a win. My teams sabotage themselves, and seem to work at cross purposes. For one director, “every solution has a problem” – whatever you want to try, it’s, “oh, that won’t work.” They’re seen as non-collaborative because they don’t just jump in to help. But why should they jump into something they see as destined to fail? Another director might get the technical aspects of a project right, but get the people aspects wrong. Still another might be investing resources in solving problems that no one’s asking to be dealt with. In all of these instances, the only way to survive is to make the right adjustments, and do so quickly.

The key to breaking these log-jams is human engagement. Human engagement matters. Getting to an understanding of values makes a difference in relationships, and having empathy around communication styles is critical. Successful people and teams share self-awareness traits: knowing thyself and identifying how we are similar enable us to create stronger, more engaged and productive relationships.

The ClearPeg process helps develop and strengthen these metacognitive traits. Cognition is knowing, while metacognition is knowing whether you know or not. Both can exist together, but many times they don’t. A lot of young people have been ruined by being told what brilliant geniuses they are. Then they go out into the world and get slapped down by it. As Mike Tyson put it, “everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” Knowing what you know and don’t know, and behaving and collaborating accordingly, is a massive differentiator, and an important critical-thinking tool.

Critical thinking allows people to solve problems with the tools to hand, or to develop the solutions they need. When you engage ClearPeg to work with your future leaders, we’ll introduce the right tools or frameworks at the right times, and in the right proportions. All-you-can-eat buffets of knowledge lead to indigestion. People learn best when there’s a problem they can assess and resolve. How big is it? How small is it? In some cases it might be a small problem that’s not really worth solving. In other cases, the solution requires greater investigation and tools.

We’ll check in with you on a quarterly basis with general feedback on our work. What’s working, what’s not working? And we know that you’ll see observable changes and results with our coachees. Wow, I’ve really noticed a difference in that person. They’re communicating very differently now…they’re much more effective… That’s the ClearPeg effect.


ClearPeg was founded in 2021 around a vision of helping people maximize their potential through coaching. Learn more >

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