I was watching the Little League World Series this past weekend and marveling at how most of these kids dealt with the pressure of playing these big games under the national spotlight. I saw how the shortstop from the Richmond, Texas team made a diving stop to his right in the hole between shortstop and third. He went completely horizontal in his dive, stopped the ball, got up and almost threw the batter out at first. I also saw some kids trying the very best but not being able to make the plays when it counted most.

Whether it's in Little League baseball or in business, some people have different challenges in getting to that next level of success. For some, getting to the next level goes very smooth. They have success in taking on the additional challenge that will demonstrate that they are ready for the next level. It might be successfully managing a project or initiative that tests the skills that will be needed for the next level. It might be solving a long-standing problem.

Others, however, find a bumpy road in their quest to get to the next level in the organization. Maybe a resource reduction occurs in the middle of the project they are managing. Maybe his/her supervisor that has been mentoring them for advancement leaves the company and is replaced by someone with a different approach. Or maybe the road is bumpy because he/she, like some of those little leaguers who had the opportunity to make a big play (a tough catch in the outfield, a catcher's stop of a pitch in the dirt or a big hit with the bases loaded), couldn't deliver to make the big play.

As a business coach, organizations utilize me to help those individuals where the road has been bumpy on their journey to the next level. Maybe they are technically proficient but interpersonally challenged. Maybe they are great doers but haven't learned how to delegate and empower others. Maybe they are great problem solvers but don't plan very well. Sometimes they have a lot of history in the organization and have strengths that no one wants to lose.

I have found that most people in this place need the following to help them take the next step:

  • Feedback from supervisors, peers and subordinates that will challenge their thinking about their current approach or style
  • Assessment of his/her current style to consider how natural strengths and challenges may be impacting the ability to advance
  • Clarity of what is expected of the individual if he/she advances as well as the "gates" that the individual must successfully pass through to advance to the next level
  • SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bounded) Improvement Goals
  • Systematic progression where the individual has a time-bounded improvement plan with intermediate milestones and regular progress discussions

One individual I worked with, Peter, was a technical expert within his company. He had accomplished a lot in his field of expertise. Some of his accomplishments had resulted in the organization reaching a much higher level of technical success. Peter often found meetings challenging because he was not very patient with people that had different opinions/approaches. He often became temperamental and critical of others in the meeting.

The organization was quite aware of the difficulty he was having in collaborating with others. Peter was taking on a new initiative that would help determine whether he could take on a managerial role sometime in the future. This role was as a leader of a knowledge sharing group where he would be leading the knowledge sharing of individuals in his field of expertise that all worked in different business units. He was being given a development opportunity to lead an activity that he was not very good at.

I coached Peter for approximately 8 months and the following are a few highlights of his quest for change:

  • I conducted interviews for Peter with 7 of his key stakeholders so he could hear the feedback first-hand and the information could be gathered by an objective source. During the interviews, he only listened and asked clarifying questions while I asked the primary questions. After the interviews, Peter privately communicated his disagreement with the feedback to me, but after seeing the trends in the feedback, he felt compelled to consider it.
  • We had two offsite meetings to review his Birkman Method results (behavioral profile) to help him understand his style and to relate it to some of the comments made during the interviews. Peter prepared his SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). He identified his key strengths as being technically proficient, good synthesizer of data and very articulate. He identified his weaknesses as having unreasonable expectations of self and peers, having the capacity to intimidate others - like an intellectual bully and displays frustrations too openly
  • Peter then prepared a Development Plan that included 3 key goals - developing patience/ tolerance/openness for opposing technical views, practicing facilitation skills to evaluate different technical approaches and improving how he could coach others in the utilization of successful technical practices. He shared the plan and the timing for the plan activities with the stakeholders that we interviewed. He also reported quarterly to those stakeholders on the progress he was making on his plan.

Peter did follow through on his plan. Comments from his stakeholders indicate that they were very pleased with his progress noting improvements in his tolerance for other's views, spending more time coaching people and in creating an environment for a healthy debate. Those were substantial improvements that he made and most importantly he gained the confidence that he could adjust his behaviors if necessary so he could become more successful in his organization.

Not all people can make the trip that Peter did. It took a willingness to change. Peter had to put himself at personal risk by opening the door for negative feedback.

I believe most individuals that have experienced success at one point in their careers want to be successful again but just need a safe zone for taking a fresh look at how they can overcome their performance challenges and utilize the strengths.

The cost of hiring/training someone from the outside when an individual can't make it is significant. A person with a lot of organizational knowledge is a terrible thing to waste.

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"Mike, thanks for sharing, some good learnings and enjoyed the correlation. I will have to use this on my British colleagues."

"Awesome news letter! It made me smile and refresh some great memories I had as a kid.   Greatest lessons in life I ever learned were on a baseball diamond as a kid. Thanks." 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  A clever way to explain and consider the Birkman Method. I appreciate you sending this to me!

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