stranded by the boss: promotion without support and training

Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more; Access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path. Join your host, Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experiences and accelerate your journey to leadership excellence.

Hi there and welcome to episode 15 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast. This episode, Stranded by the Boss, a.k.a Promotion without support and training. Now, after a great question from listener, James, I've decided to move this topic up the priority order for the episode plan. As I suspect, this is something that happens way more frequently than we might imagine. So James has said:

"In a recent leadership transition from individual contributor to management, I was tasked with delivering tasks above my competency and was under supported in acquiring these skills, resulting in damage to my career brand. When acting in a new level, how do you ensure a safe learning approach and don't damage your reputation?"

First, we're just going to briefly cover off the fact that James, you are not alone. Then, we're going to move onto what the generic skills are that you need at any level if you want to be a good leader and finally, how to take control of your own career development destiny. Let's get into it.

During my career, I've been across a lot of different level transitions, starting in 1985 as a Training Software Developer at the State Bank of New South Wales in Sydney, through to when I became Chief Executive of CS Energy and I've got to tell you that I can't recall, at any level, my boss ever having a discussion with me about what's different at that level. When you think about it, it's not actually that illogical. You win a role by proving you're ready for it either by what you portray in the interview process or from your performance at the lower level. It's almost assumed that you'll just know what to do and you'll fall into line.

Now, if you think back to episode seven of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast, it gives you tips for transitioning to a new level in terms of expectations and objectives and this will help you with managing your personal leadership brand but it certainly doesn't talk about how to acquire new skills. Organisations typically don't help themselves out much in this regard. They tend to do cheap deep training which is a real problem because it doesn't take into account an individual leader's existing skills and their existing gaps and it's not just in time training. The use it or lose it principle reigns supreme. It got me into thinking, what are the generic skills for a leader at any level? What are the things you need to have in your repertoire?

I had a little bit of fun Googling the internet and I found that the Centre for Creative Leadership has defined what it calls the four core skills for leaders. They defined it as self-awareness, communication, influencing and learning agility. Now, that's not wrong but it did remind me of the old Monty Python sketch. Imagine the setting, a children's show where they're teaching children how to do certain things and one of things and one of the things they wanted to teach them how to do was to play the flute. The advice was, you blow in one end and you move your fingers up and down the outside.

Now, whereas that's true, it's not particularly useful. As a leader, you need to know the things that are useful. I've got the five things that I think are the most useful core skills for a leader to have and they're quite specific.

Number one, I certainly agree with the Centre for Creative Leadership, communication. It's absolutely critical for a leader being able to articulate messages clearly and we can all talk, so we don't need to get too fancy with this. You just need to learn to talk about the right things. Start with frequency and not quality of communication. Quality will come over time but it's about the leadership dialogue, the day to day interactions that you have with your people. That means you talk to your people and you let them know what's going on. Let them know why you're doing certain things and tell them when they're doing a good job and you make it really clear to them what you expect of them in their roles.

This will help you to build a relationship. It builds trust and respect and you can build it quickly. But to do this, you have to show them who you are as a leader. The part of communication that we don't talk about quite as much is the listening part. When I say listen, I ask, as a leader, do you really listen. Not just listen to what's being said, but also what's not being said. Do you watch people's body language? Do you notice when they're uncomfortable or angry or indecisive or threatened can you actually pick this in your people as you watch them?

Active listening includes asking clarifying questions and so you're constantly probing to find out what's on someone's mind because it always takes a number of questions before you get down to the nub of an issue. But doing this takes the focus away from yourself and thereby, it's going to relieve a lot of your anxiety and it lets you work with others to release their capability and talent. This is going to help you in everything you do from identifying talent and building your leadership pipeline through to understanding the morale of your team, all the way through to making better decisions.

The second baseline school for a leader is challenging, coaching and confronting. That means having the hard conversations with your people that you need to get the best out of them. Now, if you haven't listened to episode six yet, you really have to go back and do that. That's about the psychology of feedback. When we talk about giving feedback to people who are having tough conversations, there's two elements to it. There's the will and there's the skill and for less experienced leaders, it's normally the will that causes the problems. Episode six is designed to help you get your head around the tough conversations, so that you don't shy away from them and you can build your skill over time.

But when you're a new leader, acquiring the right psychological and emotional state is much more important than the actual techniques and methods you employ. Once you conquer this psychologically, it makes everything you do as a leader so much easier.

The third core skill for a leader is knowing how to build a high-performing team. As a leader, this is going to be a key determinant of your success or failure. If you haven't listened to the episode on building a high performing team, this is really worth 15 minutes of your life. Remember, it's a lot easier to reign in a stallion than it is to flog a donkey. Only hire the best and put the donkeys out to pasture.

Core skill number four is planning and organising. Now as a leader, one of our primary functions funnily enough is management. Now, I'm not a fan of this big black and white distinction between leadership and management. My view, they're absolutely symbiotic and you can't be a good leader unless you know how to manage a strong leader's will. You can't be a good manager, unless you know how to lead. You've got to start by setting the right goals and objectives for your team and have to be value driven. You've got to be able to rank the value priority order of any work that you're giving your people because you've got to be able to resource it. It's got to be achievable but it's got to be stretched, so they got to be rational goals. They've got to be measurable and they've got to be able to be monitored regularly so that you can stay out of your people's knitting and just look for their results. Of course, scheduling and resourcing is critical. That part of the leadership skill set is vital.

Finally, you need decision making skills. That's number five. You need to be able to make good decisions in a timely manner and I dedicate a whole module of the online course Leadership Beyond the Theory to making great decisions. But the basics are, you've got to make it abundantly clear who is accountable for what and therefore, who carries the implicit decisions rights. You've got to ensure that the right people make the right decisions, you've got to keep the tempo going because pace is so important. If you vacillate and delay on decisions, your organisation freezes.

Decisions have to be made with a bunch of wholistic input and this is why diversity is so important in your people and the viewpoints you can bring to the table for any decision that needs to be made. Then, of course, you need to be able to communicate the rationale for any major decision because your people are going to want to know that they have a rational boss who makes good decisions.

In my view, those are the five core skills that a leader has to have at any level. Communication, challenging, coaching and confronting, building high performing teams, planning and organising and making decisions. If you have those things, they'll support everything else that you have to deal with.

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Here's the bottom line. You need to take control of your own development. Most bosses won't proactively workout what your needs are and put together a detailed development plan. Even though they should, they generally won't. They have enough shit to deal with day to day. There'll also be an element of I had to work it out so you should too.

The first thing is, number one and so important, take accountability for your own development. No one will be as interested or committed as you are in your own career and we're living in the age of the inter web, knowledge is a commodity. You get negotiation skills for 1500 US dollars for an 8-week course. These things are readily available right now to give you the knowledge you need. If you can work out where you feel weak and refer back to these five fundamental leadership skills we've just covered, you can find any number of educational solutions. But you need to put together your own strategic development plan and ideally, this would have some short-term objectives so the just in time trending that you need and a long-term component that's compatible with your career goals.

The second thing you need to do to take control is to assess your boss. Now, you probably need to know how lucky or not it is that your boss has both the will and the skill to help you develop as a leader. By definition, there'll be a bunch of things you can learn from your boss. They've been down the path before you and they're likely to have had different experiences. Whether or not they can give you any guidance on leadership will be the key.

Remember, there are very few great leaders out there, so the likelihood that your boss is one of them is probably quite remote. But you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Despite everything, your boss will have strengths and weaknesses, just like we all do and you can learn from both. It's extremely useful from a developmental perspective and I've got to say, I've learned more about leadership from my bad bosses, i.e., what not to do, than I have from my good ones.

Number three in taking control, approach your boss with a development plan. "I need this, this and this. Will you help me?" Now, if you're a novice leader, this will be really good for you particularly if you're asking for some money or time from your organisation to assist with your development. First of all, you're going to have to learn to influence and that means upwards, you've got to influence your boss. You have to learn how to articulate a business case because if you want money spent on you for anything, you better be sure you can show value coming at the backend just with any other investment and you have to be able to describe the value of the outcomes in order to be able to do that.

But larger organisations almost always have budgets for these things, so work out what they are. You don't want to ask for something unreasonable but you do want to ask for what you need. The fourth thing that I'd really recommend is get yourself a mentor. The object of the exercise here is to find someone who's been there and done that before you. Your boss can't mentor you in the way you need. Now, the reason for this is that you can't be 100% open with someone who has a vested interest in you. You need to be able to spill your gut to the deepest level possible in order to maximise your value from a mentor relationship. You're very unlikely to ever do that with your boss. I certainly wouldn't recommend it.

This is not a coach you're after. A coach is going to ask you questions that are intended to lead you to discover what you already know. A mentor has been where you are and can help you with strategies for how to approach the many problems you might face in your leadership journey. Just take a look around you. Who's the person in your range of vision who's more senior than you but not in the same line of leadership, who you look at and think, "Now, that person has their act together. They're a great leader. They're well respected, not just liked and they get the job done?" That's the sort of person you want to approach.

Now, quick shout out to all the past and present students at the QUT Graduate School of Business. I was on a panel a couple of weeks ago with a room full of current and recent graduated MBA students. When I asked the question in that room, "Who has a mentor," I only got about 10% of the room putting their hands up. I found this absolutely staggering. If you identify someone you'd like to mentor you, be bold and go and ask them. You'll be surprised to find that most people actually say yes. But assertiveness is a key factor for a leader as well. If you were twice as assertive as you thought you could be, you'd probably then be about half as assertive as you should be.

Finally, number five, lose the ego. Be prepared to put your hand up for help. We all want to show that we're competent and capable, but it takes a really strong individual to say things like, "I don't know," or, "Gee, I really stuffed that up," or, "I'm not sure how to move forward on this one." This can be a little bit tricky because you don't want to appear incompetent.

However, it's important you get some guidance where needed and say to your boss, "Look, I've never really faced this situation before. From your experience, can you give me any tips about how to do this really well?" Your boss will love the fact that you've gone to her to ask her that question. Pretty much all the literature on leadership these days talks about the need to be fallible and vulnerable and open and transparent. Well, this is actually what it means in practise.

How many of you have that vernacular though, to be able to talk about the things that you're not doing well and to demonstrate your vulnerability? Because from what I've seen, a lot of people think they're being transparent and open and vulnerable but they're actually not. Remember, being right isn't everything. It's just a good start.

Alright, so that brings us to the end of episode 15. To pick up the free downloadable, ‘Five Tips for Taking Control of Your Own Development’, go to www.yourceomentor.com/episode15. Thanks so much for joining us and remember, at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. If you liked this episode, please share it with your leadership network, so that we can reach even more leaders.

I look forward to next week's episode, where I'm going to do another Q&A with Emma to answer some great questions on workplace politics and how to handle egotistical bosses.

Until then, I know you take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.