True Story: Early in my career, the firm I was with had the good fortune of receiving a large windfall tax credit that resulted in both a hiring blitz and an ability to suddenly move forward with a number of programs that had been on the drawing board for a long time. Naturally, while the development team was suddenly nearly doubled, the supporting teams were not – and you can imagine the backlog not just in the model shop, but on the technical writing, product testing, printing and specifications groups, as well.
I learned quickly that the key to being able to complete the activities I had been assigned was going to be my ability to negotiate with the support team leaders. These individuals were very overwhelmed with the backlog and had no way to rationally make decisions.
The challenge I faced here was becoming a leader that had high integrity and was also influential. Being every bit the introverted engineer (sidebar – an extroverted engineer looks down at your shoes when they talk), my initial attempts to engage these resource managers was clunky at best. After lots of trial and many errors, I came to understand that the key to this work was twofold – the ability to be myself and just have the dialogue and the courage to set context. This led to the development of three skills that every growth leader needs if they’re going to be successful:
- Develop an ability to connect with people
- Develop an ability to connect the bigger picture to their interests
- Use “Thor’s Hammer” very sparingly (but do use it when called for)
Lets unpack these one at a time.
Connecting with people. This may be a blinding flash of the obvious, but you would be surprised at the small number of people who take time to get to know the staff teams at a personal level. One of the huge gifts of being a card-carrying member of the human race is to be known. What I mean by this is not just a superficial touch, but to give a sincere effort to connect before making a request. What is their non-verbal cues telling you about how their day is going? Have you taken the time to connect about how their weekend went? Do you know that their niece was just accepted to college? These common courtesies are being lost in our “connected age,” which ironically, is the most disconnected relationally ever.
With some effort, you can find a basis to build relationships on. I can hear some of you saying you don’t know “x,” she eats our young staff members for lunch. I’ve had a few interactions that I didn’t think would ever get collegial (one factory supervisor comes to mind), but even though it took a while, I was able to develop a real and lasting connection. If you take the time to put relational capital in the bank now, you’ll soon be known as the go-to resource.
World-class context setting. When you show up at the door, it’s easy for the support team to say, “here is Scott, and all he wants is for us to make some chips on the CNC.” I coach growth leaders to take a few minutes to “set the table” with both internal and external vendors and support teams. What will it mean to the enterprise when this groovy new product hits the market? How will it help us serve people better? How could it impact the profit sharing? There is almost always a very strong link between the work you are asking for and a very relatable impact that you can both agree is a good outcome.
Everyone wants to be a part of doing great work – so be sure that the work you do is great, and then don’t be bashful about inviting others to be part of it. If the work you are doing is not part of a quest, be honest about that too, and link that to the pride of a job well done.
Use the override button sparingly. In their career, every Growth Leader has an opportunity to be on a “gold key” program that gives you license to get the top priority on an as-requested basis. If you receive this kind of priority service, my advice is to use it as a last result. While it may seem that you should declare the need and move to the top of the list every time, that is a hugely disruptive event to support teams, who are typically understaffed and over committed already. When you play the “trump card,” you send shock waves through multiple programs and commitments that have already been made, creating lots of extra logistics for everyone involved.
That being said, when you absolutely need it, don’t back away from using it. I once had to get a demo done that opened the door literally for millions of dollars of new contracts. We needed shop support off hours, and it was a holiday. We made the demo and got the business, and I took the time to make sure that the tech received a share of our bonus pool.
These skills are part of the Complete Growth Leader framework, which I’ve derived from working with hundreds of individuals who have made the investment to become powerful value creators for the firms. When used together, these skills and competencies allow expertise to flow seamlessly across organizations, and provide a path for significant new value to be generated. From a development point of view, building this skill base will accelerate careers of those who aspire to a career of breakthrough growth in firms. For more on this framework, see the posts here and here.
What I’ve shared here is a portion of the practical, runway level coaching we do in the Complete Growth Leader program, either 1:1 or as cohorts. If you’d like more information about that program, please give me a call at 847-651-1014 (direct) or click here to directly get on my calendar for a no-strings-attached phone call.
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