By: Tom Cox
When I see professional growth challenges among people, one of the first things I look at is how the individuals view their roles.
Years ago, during my tenure at Marriott, I was asked to help enhance a leader development program that was under design. The idea was that, given my role as a proven leader, I would be able to offer insights and guidance on how we could develop leaders to improve their impact and, subsequently, the performance of their teams.
There was a point at which the assumption in the conversation was that the leader was singularly in charge of the development. I asked the question, “What is the individual’s role in their own development and should we include that in our work?” After some curious looks and a few questions, I went on to explain how I viewed learning.
There are two parts to the equation–the teacher and the student. That relationship was profoundly demonstrated in the original movie, The Karate Kid. The pivotal scene is where Mr. Miyagi instructs Daniel-san that his role is to be the student and Mr. Miyagi’s role is that of the teacher. More importantly, the viewer clearly understands that for Daniel-san to properly assume the student role in relation to the teacher, he must make a commitment to the work. My point with my esteemed colleagues was the risk of assuming that the teacher is 100% responsible for the success of the student.
Please understand, I view effective leader development as intrinsic to the success of any organization, and, further, the leader has a large and impactful role in the relationships, culture and resulting engagement of teams. And, most importantly, the imbalance of power puts the onus on the leader to ensure the right environment exists for people to thrive. With that acknowledgment noted, I believe it’s important that we look at the role of the employee.
Having captured the attention of my colleagues, I went to a flip chart and shared my view on the three levels within roles. My goal was to offer a view of how people can take responsibility, and, to a large extent, drive their own growth and development, which will enhance their promotability, while also improving performance. Here is what I shared:
“There are three levels within every role. Think of it as E-cubed”
We are all beginners the first time we step into a new role. Ideally, we enter the role eager to learn, grow and perform. As espoused by Simon Sinek and other notables, the intrinsic motivators are wired into the opportunity to be creative and express oneself in the role. The basic question is, “Am I doing meaningful work?” Clearly, the environment created by the leader and others around us can affect our view, but the initial and primary motivation is around the curiosity of learning and performing.
Assuming the work itself is engaging and we become adept at our role, we move from the learning phase into a phase of acceleration. Our skills are now sharpened, improvements are made and our field of vision widens to see other possibilities. During this phase, the acceleration is demonstrated as “faster” and “better.” We are likely receiving feedback about our performance and our growth in the role. It’s at this point we can begin to take on more.
In good leader development programs, leaders are taught to set priorities with their employees that are aligned with the organization’s goals and priorities. From there, accountability for performance can occur and clarity of execution results. Good leaders will employ coaching to encourage the growth and development of employees, resulting in greater ownership and stronger overall performance. Over time, the employees become more self-sufficient and, in many cases, will have expanded capacity as their efficiency and effectiveness improves.
This is when employees can begin to look up and out, seeking the opportunity to take on more challenging things. Often this comes in the form of delegation from the leader. In this effort, we have driven the expansion of our role. In an ideal state it matches up with the interests and abilities of the leader to support such growth and to delegate.
Notice that there is a direct connection to the leader’s relationship to the employee. However, I will also ask you to think about whether you have ever witnessed a “high-potential” employee who constantly seized opportunities, who grew and drove their career by what appeared to be pure ambition. I can tell you I have seen that, and particularly in the face of poor leadership, this is often the only path they may have.
In every role, we are the employee. We can drive our own success in how we choose to show up and move from entry to expansion. By seizing the opportunity and demonstrating ambition for growth, we can assert ourselves and influence our career paths. And, hopefully, as we work on our individual capacity we will be supported by a leader who encourages and helps us accelerate our development and growth.