Thursday, July 24, 2008

Executive Career Blocker: Avoidance

Tackling challenging situations is a hallmark of good leaders … avoiding them is a precursor to failure.

When it comes to under-performers on their team, too many executives wait too long to address the problem, endangering their own careers in the process.

I recently coached the Treasurer of a marquee financial services company whose boss, the CFO, wanted her to display the leadership required in her job. As he told me “She has extraordinary functional expertise, keen insight and is solutions-oriented, but she’s acting more like a “doer” and less like a leader. She’s micromanaging her projects, isn’t developing or utilizing her staff and has lost sight of the big picture.”

Uneasiness is not an excuse

In my first session with her, I learned that she routinely put in 80-hour workweeks, hadn’t taken a vacation in the nine months she had been Treasurer and was on the verge of burnout. She elaborated on the never-ending demands of the position and difficulties with some on her team.

She cited two of her key direct reports who weren’t delivering satisfactory results and whose errors she was correcting herself rather than returning the work and demanding improvements. As a self-described low-key, conflict-averse personality, she was uncomfortable criticizing anyone and anything.

Complicating the situation further, her team posed special problems as she had been their coworker for many years. The bonds of camaraderie were overriding the necessities of leadership.

Intellectually, she realized she wasn’t helping her staff and was, in fact, impeding her own success. But emotionally, she found it difficult to hold their feet to the fire. Her reluctance to address these deficiencies weakened her position not only as their leader, but within the company as well.

Confronting challenges

This scenario went on for several more weeks until it became clear that not only could she not maintain the pace, but that her own job would soon be in jeopardy.

She started being far more candid and direct with her team, shared her dissatisfaction with their work product and while one improved dramatically, she subsequently replaced the other.

Those moves not only saved her job, they improved the quality of her life.

In short, avoidance of any workplace challenge can block your career. It’s a bad trait.

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