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Removing leadership barriers

Managers must help employees identify obstacles and teach them leadership techniques through training, mentoring and coaching

Ankita Rai  |  New Delhi 

Marilyn, a high potential at a law firm, was fired when she failed to meet her boss's performance expectations. The things that blocked Marilyn's success are typical of high potentials whose careers derail. As a leader who is gaining expertise in the four types of conversations, how would you work with Marilyn to improve her performance - and how would you apply similar techniques to assist other high potentials in your organization?

A good place to begin is to explicitly identify the additional tasks you want Marilyn to perform and the performance objectives you expect her to achieve. You might hold a conversation with her about the and leadership skills required to perform those tasks and achieve those objectives:

"Marilyn, you're a skilled attorney, and that is essential for making partner. We hired you because of your legal acumen and leadership potential. Your legal abilities have proven to be world class - and your clients recognize them. On the other hand, so far we haven't seen the skills needed to convert your abilities into the revenue stream and new clients expected of a partner. Let's discuss what it will take for you to become a partner, and the activities and behaviors that will take you to that goal."

Marilyn's response might be something like: "I'm glad we're having this conversation. I need to know what you expect of me besides meeting revenue goals. I always felt I was given stretch goals. Revenue has increased with all of my clients, yet I'm still not meeting your expectations. What else can I do?"

Marilyn provided key insights into how she has been thinking, which gives you the opening to suggest new activities and behaviors: "Marilyn, your focus on revenue is admirable, but meeting stretch goals is hard when you do so much of the work yourself instead of delegating it. Besides, revenue is just one criterion for making partner. Your work with clients is superb, but it takes time away from growing your people and growing the firm's client list. As your boss, I'm willing to mentor you in how to simultaneously lead your team, build their expertise, expand our relationship with existing clients, and gain new ones. How would you like me to assist you?"

At this point, you and Marilyn might discuss the process for learning the leadership skills expected of partners, and how you could work together to prepare her for that promotion. Then you would want to agree on the improvements she needs to make. If neither of you is sure what is holding her back, you might speak with her colleagues to determine how well they feel she is performing. You could hold face-to-face interviews, use a 36o-degree tool (a survey that contrasts Marilyn's perceptions of herself to those of her bosses, peers, and direct reports), or both. When Marilyn receives the results, she can prepare a plan for your approval that outlines a developmental approach and identifies where she will need assistance. When you sign off on her plan, you are committing to provide the resources she needs and giving her responsibility to execute the plan: "Marilyn, now that you've analyzed the 360 results and I have approved your plan, it's up to you to follow through and ask for assistance when needed. Focus on developing your team as you service our clients. When you are comfortable with how I mentor you, start mentoring the attorneys on your staff in a similar manner. One way to demonstrate your proficiency is to teach your skills to your team and bring out the best in each of them. When you become proficient in developing others and winning work with new clients, you'll also be achieving the revenue targets and be on your way to becoming a partner. I have a vested interest in seeing that you are successful."

Challenging High-Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders
AUTHOR: Alan S Berson, Richard G Stieglitz
Price: $27.95

Reprinted by permission of the publisher. Copyright Wiley. All rights reserved.

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First Published: Mon, July 22 2013. 00:19 IST