Type “A” professionals are used to the fast track. They have moved quickly up the corporate ladder in their first few years based on their ability to work hard and outshine their peers. But for many of these high achievers, the success path stops abruptly after a few years, and they are passed by those that they feel are of less ability or intelligence. For someone who has always been the “head of the class”, this situation is frustrating and unbearable. But they deal with it as they have so many times before. They throw themselves into work and determine to become more capable in their profession. Unfortunately, their issue isn’t capacity as much as it is that new abilities are needed for the higher level positions. Positions not just of management, but of leadership. Unless they (or you) make some fundamental shifts in the way they think and deal with others, they will continue to face a wall of their own making. Here are the key beliefs that hold many great performers from becoming leaders.
They don’t know how to sell their ideas/vision— One can’t be a leader if there is no one to lead. A key skill that must be developed is the ability to sell one’s ideas. This does not come naturally for most professionals. I am reminded of when I was teaching a presentation class to a group of professionals and it was going well for everyone except Norman. He seemed to be very skeptical about my methods and his negativity was apparent to the other class members. Norman was a neuroscientist and a former college professor and he felt that my communication training was too simplistic and elemental. Despite my best efforts, he was still negative at the end of the day, and wasn’t sure that he would be back. To my surprise, he was there on the second morning, enthusiastic and eager to learn. I was keen to talk to him at the first break to find out what had changed. “Bill”, he said to me, “I’ve figured it out!” “What have you figured out, Norman?” “You want me to talk differently to people who aren’t neuroscientists!” he said. I asked him to tell me more. “Quite often when someone from my team explains a project to upper management, they are met with blank stares and noncommittal shrugs. I believe their lack of understanding hurts our ability to get our projects funded. Overnight I realized that we’ve been confusing people because we wanted to be so “smart”. What you’ve been teaching is a method to talk to others in a way that allows them to understand us and get on board with our projects!” Norman had realized that he and the rest of his team needed to improve their ability to sell their vision. Eventually, his entire department was trained to communicate their ideas more effectively and with excellent results.
“A leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and to release their energies so they will try to get there.” — David Gergen
They believe that a leader is the most technically skilled— When a person has spent 16 or more years in school, getting great grades and being the smartest in the class, it is natural for them to believe that being the best (engineer, accountant, scientist, etc.) will take them to a leadership post. But then they start to see less worthy, less able people get promoted past them. This happened to my brother-in-law. Through his 20’s and into his early thirties he had quickly moved up in his organization. He was one of the top engineers and they rewarded him. But eventually the promotions tapered off and he didn’t know why. He was still a great engineer, but others that didn’t have abilities were getting promoted past him. At first he chalked it up to favoritism or sucking up. Finally he decided to talk to his boss about the issue and he was surprised when he was told that while he was an excellent engineer, he needed to work on his people skills before he could be promoted. Well, he had never heard anything about that from his engineering professors! The good news is that he started to learn more about working with others and has been moving up ever since.
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
They are stingy with success and generous with failure – I hear team horror stories all the time. Just this morning a woman asked what she should do about a team member who wasn’t getting his or her share of the work done and so others had to cover for them. Another client of mine is concerned that his other team members are going to use him as the scape goat if their project goes poorly. Unfortunately, his concerns are well founded based on past experience. How tragic for talented employees who desperately want their initiatives to be successful, to be spending valuable time and energy looking for ways to cover their backsides. There are far too many cowardly people in organizations who are happy to take credit but are the first to point fingers if things start to go south.
“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” – Arnold H. Glasow
They don’t trust others to do their job – The key challenge that the “A” personality deals with in this area is the belief that only their ideas and their methods are effective. Instead of allowing the team to develop creative and innovative solutions, they employ intimidation and pressure tactics so that the team does things their way. This takes away enthusiasm and engagement on the part of the other team members which only serves to reinforce the “A” player’s contention that they are the only true worker on the team. The group’s interest further wanes as every contribution is questioned and their work is criticized. Earlier in my business career I was put on a team to determine how sales territories should be divided and commissions handled for the organization. My boss was part of the team and every time we came up with an idea, Larry would prohibit or modify it. After a number of meetings it was apparent that the rest of the team (including me) was getting frustrated so I finally asked Larry, “Why don’t you just tell us what you’ve already decided to do. Then we can pretend to agree and be done with this?” He accused me of not being a team player (intimidation) and said he was sure that the rest of the team didn’t feel that way (pressure). Feeling the need to apologize for telling the truth, I did so and went back to being a good puppy. Eventually we all agreed to do what Larry wanted and the best of the sales team left the organization within the next year.
“I invite everyone to choose forgiveness rather than division, teamwork over personal ambition.”
They are afraid of failing – Our school system seems particularly dreadful at helping students cope with success and failure. As we go through our school years, everything we do is graded and only success is valued. Eventually we get to high school, where we must get good grades or we won’t get into the best colleges. Our college grade must now be exemplary if we want to get into graduate schools. This process builds a cadre of graduates who are afraid of, and in many cases, unable to fail. Yet most of those who have had great business successes have dealt with numerous failures. Thomas Edison was told by a teacher that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Walt Disney was let go by his editor because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” J.K. Rowling was living on welfare as a single mother when she started writing the “Harry Potter” series. These types of failures help us understand what it takes to become successful. But if I am always concerned about my “permanent record” I will never take the leaps necessary for great success. Many people who graduated at the top of their class have great minds but often little courage.
“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.“ – Sumner Redstone
Whether we are an “A” type personality or not, we all need to avoid falling into these different traps. Being capable in our position is a necessity. However, we constantly need to be learning, growing and developing leadership skills.