How Leadership Development is Hurting Your Career

“What’s the best way for John to improve?” I asked, one of those coachy-interviewing questions people like me say to bosses and peers of folks we’re working to support.

“Honestly, I wish he would just stop trying so hard to improve, and just lead. We’ve all given him plenty of advice. He’s taken a gazillion courses. He’s hired a great coach. But around every corner he’s asking for constant feedback. It’s exhausting. Besides, he can’t possibly do everything we’re suggesting all at once, so he’s creating expectations he can’t live up to.”

My advice: listen, breathe, and do. Stop looking outside for feedback.

Even the best intentions taken to extreme cause harm.

Don’t over-think your leadership. People are watching. You need feedback, and most people ask too little. And as it turns out, some people ask too much.

Signs You’re Asking Too Little

  • You have no idea where you really stand.
  • You’re blind-sided in performance reviews.
  • You keep getting passed over for promotions and don’t know why.
  • You don’t really know what your peers think about you.
  • You have no idea where you stand with your bosses’ boss.
  • Your team never shares constructive feedback.

It might be time for a do-it-yourself 360.

Signs You’re Asking Too Much

  • You keep hearing the same advice over and over.
  • You haven’t had time to really improve.
  • You’re ignoring the advice and asking again, hoping the advice will change.
  • You’re addicted to the conversation.
  • You talk more about you than about your team.
  • You’re more focused on your own improvement than on improving business results.

It’s a tragedy when leaders stop learning. Equally devastating is when leaders become more focused on their own improvement than on leading well.

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Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

12 Comments

  1. hmmmm. This has me thinking. Well, I’m so new at real leadership, I think I’m years away from learning too much. I think for me the biggest challenge is learning where my areas of growth are and concentrating learning on that area. Thanks Karen for getting my gray matter stirred this a.m. Namaste

    • Bill, Thanks so much. I think it has a lot to do with how much one extraverts their processing. I’m sure you’re just fine. Namaste.

  2. You nailed this one, Karin. I hear this all the time from emerging leaders who want to be perfect and yet are still learning and growing. There is a balance between asking for feedback and being a nudge about craving feedback. The important thing is making sure that the feedback you are getting is honest, not garbage. That may mean asking the right questions.

    Being a leader involves gathering information and also just trying out things that may or may not work. I have made it my mantra to incorporate healthy feedback I receive into each of my new workshop designs. I often have to tweak it later but at least I feel I am leading my way.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Terri, Such a beautiful add. Yes! Asking for feedback well to ensure quality and acting on it is so vital. Thank you.

  3. Interesting question, Karin.

    Sometimes the best way to learn is—yes, jump in to see whether you float or sink. It may sound cruel, but I have found that the best way of learning to do something is to actually just do it. I’ve made mistakes, but those mistakes only illustrate where we need to focus our learning.

    I think coaching can be great, but I also think it’s become a crutch for those who just don’t have what it takes to make the plunge…and learn on their own instead of expecting to be spoonfed the answers/solutions.

    • Larae, Thanks so much. For some, I think that working on leadership can feel like growing, but the proof with anything is in the pudding.

  4. Wow, I just had a training session with a few folks that were in the too little side. I cautioned them about swinging to the too much side. The one piece of advice that I stressed was – after each provided feedback (planned or unplanned) – never forget to acknowledge the feedback. Make and share you plans on the feedback – helps hold you accountable.

    • Steve. Amen! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Yes, a dramatic swing can be very tricky.

  5. Sounds like the over-askers need a new coaching skill – bottom lining it. The stories don’t matter as much as the impact. Why does it matter, why do you care and what are you going to do about it (and for goodness sakes stop talking about it) I know it may sound harsh to some but some people need someone else to point out that accumulating knowledge is no longer helping them grow – it’s time for action.

    I’ve worked with execs who felt the urgency of the do-or-die situation they were in (coaching, training and often a PIP) and felt under water. As if the company was doing all they could to say “see? We tried and you failed” instead of both being on the same side in service of the execs success. In that case, there were many questions and requests for feedback because of the eggshells they were walking on and a lack of honesty around the big investment in their leadership development.

    Provocative question with many answers. Good one!

    • Alli, Thanks so much. Your experiences always illuminate new angles to the topic.

  6. Karin, Great question. The danger of focusing too much on leadership development is we begin sounding like a good versus a real leader. We need to make decisions. We need to act. We need to collaborate. The best leadership development then is a good sense of self-reflection and self-awareness to learn and grow. Thanks! Jon

    • Jon, So well said. Thank you! I totally agree… self-reflection and then action!

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