Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Art and Science of Professional Development

Guest post from Bill Bartlett:

What is your position on professional development? If you are among the top 20% of all executives, you believe it is as necessary as the air you breathe whereas the remaining 80% consider it to be a waste of time or give lip service to it. I have been coaching and training business executives for over 20 years and I find the high performers demonstrate a common need to continuously raise the learning bar to stay ahead of the competition. The top 20 percenters gain developmental insight from numerous sources, however, I find there are three primary categories of executive development: outside experience, training, and coaching. Most high-performing leaders are committed to using a combination of all three to accomplish their goal to be the best.

I have always heard that experience is the best teacher and this may be true if it is broad enough to encompass new information. Unfortunately, when executives derive his expertise strictly from the internal occurrences of their company, they often develop tunnel vision which hampers growth. The true development of their company’s potential is stunted due to the absence of externally gleaned knowledge that might challenge outdated thinking. The richest types of experience come from executives being “out in the world” to witness different approaches and concepts which may be applicable to their business. Far too many executives lead lives of “quiet desperation”, returning to their office every Monday, to prescribe identical solutions to what they perceive to be identical problems they had left behind the previous Friday. Exciting new ideas are presented and discussed at association meetings, executive mastermind groups, as well as outside industry consulting groups. If you are an executive who strictly relies on internal experiences, you owe it to yourself to explore resources that could lead to you questioning the same old thought patterns that worked at one time, but are clearly no longer effective.

Training is a critical driver of executive growth and development. One of the main focuses for my business is sales and leadership training in order to stay abreast of the needs of today’s fast-paced learning curve. My role as corporate trainer is to teach every leader new skills in a manner that allows them to confidently adopt new strategies and tactics for growth in their position. Unfortunately, approximately 80% of executives do not believe in the power of continuous learning and either suffer significant plateaus in their career and/or inertia in their business. An effective training methodology is typically designed to impart skills, knowledge, and application in a manner that enhances their performance as leaders and managers. I believe every executive initially brings an impressive skill set to their position, but, over time, its effectiveness is diminished as they face greater challenges. Training sharpens the saw and provides new skills to add to their toolbox. Simply developing them, however, is not enough. I have to ensure executives understand their context to assure their commitment to utilizing them is solidified. This provides a framework for the skills execution and leads to the executive exhibiting heightened situational awareness. Lastly, training provides a path for continuous application, the key to sustainable success, and eliminates the “flavor of the month” approach to growth.

The final area for executives to consider when exploring professional development is coaching. Executives are now learning what professional athletes have always known: a great coach is an invaluable resource when pursuing a goal. Athletic coaches usually don’t possess the same physical attributes as their athletes, however, they have the ability to reach into the minds and souls of the athletes to help them raise their performance level to heights they may have only dreamed of attaining. In the world of professional development, coaching helps transfer experience and training into the wisdom necessary for the executive to transcend to a much more impactful level of performance. I am an executive coach for many executives ranging from the Fortune 1000 to small business and I find that each has a performance code that when accessed, helps them significantly raise their level of success.

Executive stagnation is a disease that no leader can afford to contract as it restricts the growth of both the executive and the company being led. Experience, training, and coaching should challenge them to think differently and break antiquated patterns of behavior that have never been questioned. I challenge all of my executive coaching clients with the following questions:
 
1. What is ONE new idea you have brought to your management team that you wanted them to vet?

2. What is ONE traditional operating principle you have relied on for growth? Is it still valid?

3. What is ONE recent example of your management team’s willingness to critically challenge your thinking?

4. Do you regularly take an objective 360-degree analysis of your company to determine areas of stagnation?

5. What artificial limitations have you placed on your behavior?

6. How do you test your business assumptions to validate or change them?

7. Have you created a continuous learning culture?

Far too many executives see their role as a mass of tactics designed to drive the business forward. In reality, the executive function of any company must be firmly rooted in strategic thinking, not tactical action. How differently would executives lead their company if they truly believed they were paid to think, not do? Professional executive development demands a commitment to growth and the discipline to act. Ask yourself, “What’s holding me back” and if the answer is nothing, NOW is the time to act.

Bill Bartlett is author of THE SALES COACH’S PLAYBOOK:  Breaking The
Performance Code (Sandler Training / 2016).  Bartlett is an experienced Sandler trainer who plays an important role in Sandler’s worldwide organization and is recognized as a business development expert specializing in executive sales training and sales productivity training.  He currently heads a Sandler training center in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, IL.
For more information, please visit https://www.sandler.com/resources/sandler-books/coaching.

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