It’s hard for many of us to tell when we’ve got “it.” Usually someone else points out to us that we’ve changed significantly.
Those of us who’ve gotten “it” have worked for months or even years to develop into a professional, setting aside time each day to listen to audio materials or read periodicals on the traits of a professional. We’ve found a mentor who has aided in our personal growth, and from this personal work, we’re now different—better. We’ve become ethical, proactive, decisive, visionary individuals—professionals who love people and want to see them grow as we have. For many of us, our first reaction to the realization of our change is to try to help others discover what we’ve discovered. We excitedly explain to our friends and coworkers how our life has changed for the better, how much more progress we now make and how much more we’ve accomplished since getting “it.” We see their eyes glaze over and we can’t understand how they just don’t get what we’re talking about. This brings me to the next topic in this series of developing professionalism in our businesses and lives: helping to develop other professionals.
Our desire to help develop other professionals is not just that we yearn to share our discovery with others—it’s that we must. As companies grow, it is necessary to develop a core team of leaders that share and implement common goals. To develop this team, the budding professional leader has to discern the signs in others that show the mettle that can be mined to develop into future leaders. Oftentimes we want to spend our efforts developing the skills in those we like, but this can spell disaster in business. This brings us to a cardinal rule in developing others, the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule applies to many things. In college economics courses, this rule is used to show the proportion of the nation’s wealth: 20 percent of the population controls 80 percent of the wealth. This corresponds directly to our pursuit of locating new professionals: 20 percent of the people are responsible for 80 percent of a business’s production. My experience leads me to believe this should be the 80/10/10 rule. Ten percent of the population produces 80 percent of production, and the other 10 percent antagonizes the rest of us! These people bring down the morale of the rest of the team by continually focusing on how they as individuals deserve special treatment. They believe they should be owed something for merely existing as an employee of the firm. In contrast to this type of employee, the discovery of a potential professional is all the more rewarding.
The first place to seek those with potential for developing professionalism should always be a firm’s own backyard. Business owners and managers should look to see who exists at the firm with untapped potential. Who shows existing habits for personal growth without (or with minimal) personal problems? During this evaluation process, it is often difficult to separate our own personal likes and dislikes. Many books on developing successful professional leaders include score sheets to help analyze candidates. These guides contain enough specific questions to evaluate a person’s work and personal habits in order to determine a fair rank for his or her individual potential.
If no potential professionals exist in the firm, business owners and managers should look outside their companies. In this case, the interview process is the place to test the candidates. Too many managers use the interview process to simply explain the job description and pitch the company. This amazes me. The interview should be the forum where the most difficult questions are asked of the candidate. These questions include:
- “What have you done to help your company grow?”
- “How have you helped to develop others, such as your crew members or other office staff?”
- “How have you developed more efficient ways of
- “Are there clients you’ve worked with that would provide a reference for you?”
- “What do you have to offer other than surveying skills?”
- “Where do you see yourself in two years? In five?”
Say, you finally find “the one.” It took longer than you thought and you’ve invested more in the hiring process than what the firm is used to. But you’ve found someone who shows definite potential. Now what? Put the new person in charge of the difficult projects and then kick back in your office? Hardly. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to display the characteristics—rather to live the characteristics—of a professional leader. You are now the mentor of this new employee and you need to lead him transparently.
As your newly found professional develops, there will be opportunities to lead without directly giving instruction. Confrontations may occur between the developing professional and other staff. These confrontations can be used as opportunities to show the new leader sound decision-making skills. It is natural to try to avoid confrontation. As the mentor, you should encourage the person with the issue to concisely describe the problem with all parties present. You should ask him for his proposed solution. If he voices his concern with all parties present, he will be forced to face the person he has a problem with. In this type of open conversation, the truth about the issue will generally come out—not just how the antagonist sees the issue—and the antagonist will be less likely to complain again unless there is a real problem.
Some new managers will try to implement new policies to fix every complaint that arises. This is not professional. Why punish the team because of one employee’s problems? Here is an example: your new team leader comes to you to let you know a GPS receiver has been stolen because a survey technician left the truck canopy unlocked. You advise the new leader to A) install new check lists on the dashboards of all field trucks listing the tasks to be performed prior to leaving the vehicle for the field, or B) confront the survey technician and explain that he is 100 percent responsible for the safety of the equipment and that if a door is found unlocked again, he will be relieved of his position. Which option would you choose? Solution A communicates to the team that they’re untrustworthy and that leadership believes tasks need to be idiot-proof. However, it also allows the manager to avoid a confrontation. Solution B solves the problem where the problem lies. Which would you choose?
Just as the 80/20 rule or 80/10/10 rule guides us in choosing new professionals to develop, it also aids us in the development process. These producers deserve the lion’s share of the company’s resources. They should be given your trust to make hard decisions and your support when they do. They also should be rewarded for their abilities with appropriate salary and bonuses. Many firms are afraid to rock the ship by paying purely based on productivity. Many give nearly the same compensation to employees based on seniority and job level. Does this inspire achievement? No, it encourages complacency.
Many successful professional leaders will work themselves out of a job in a handful of years. They will develop a team, then move on. I don’t believe this is necessary. If a true leader believes in the company he works for, the sky is the limit. No coasting allowed. The leader of leaders has to be willing to always take greater risks and to think farther outside the box. He shouldn’t be intimidated by new leaders yapping at his heels, but complimented because his hard work helps them to develop into better professionals. But the biggest compliment he can receive, even greater than seeing the success of his new leaders working with the team, will be seeing his new leaders developing new leaders on their own.
This is the fifth part in a six-part series.