Executive Leadership: One Temptation Most Successful Executives Resist

If you’re an executive (or aspiring to be one) this time I’m writing for you. Not my usual M.O., I usually write for your teams (and how to help them deal with you 😉 But today, I write to you. Why? Because when senior leaders practice winning well behaviors, the culture shifts that much faster– and results not only go up, they stay up– and teams feel excited about what they’re up to.

The Temptation

In a recent conversation, “Mary” a senior leader at a Fortune 15 company shared the moment she “Got it.” That moment when she realized the easy temptation that was holding her back from being the best she could be in her role.

“I had five key functional areas I was responsible for, four of which I understood inside and out because I’d grown up in the business. I was confident in those arenas and showed up strong. But in a National Operations role, I also had responsibility for ‘fleet’–yup, the trucks.”

I thought, “Well, I don’t have to pay too much attention there.  I’ve got people for that. I’ll just concentrate on the aspects of the job where I can truly add value and trust my team to do what needs to be done with the fleet.”

And then one day, my boss, Carl, asked me to come with him to visit one of our garages. He opened the hood and said, “Mary is this oil supposed to be black?” I had no idea. “Mary, do you know why it matters?” Nope. “Mary, what’s the number one priority for the fleet department?” That I knew, thank God, “Safety, ” I shared confidently.

Carl continued, “I need you to go find out and understand the impact black oil has on safety. And, Mary, you can’t avoid learning about parts of this role just because you don’t like them. You’ve got to know enough to be able to inspect what’s going on.”

5 Things You Must Know About Every Functional Area You Oversee

As an executive, your job is all about strategy and execution across a large scope and scale. And like Mary, you likely have five or so functional areas you oversee. And if you’re like most execs we work with, there’s one area you particularly dislike. Yes, it starts with what Jim Collins calls “Getting the right people on the bus.” But to really rock your role as an executive, you also need to know every aspect of your role enough at least well enough to discern the following:

  1. What the data is really saying.
    When you’re not close to the business it’s easy to look at a good metric and say “Hmmm, looks great.” Take the time to dig past the averages and look at the outliers to know what’s really going on.
  2. What’s possible.
    The folks on your team who’ve been doing this forever may overlook new approaches because of they’re comfortable with the way things have always been done.  More about my experience with that here in my executive sales role at Verizon.
  3. Who’s crushing it.
    A key part of your role is ensuring the right people are recognized and rewarded for their contributions. See also: 5 Reasons Your Recognition is Backfiring
  4. The right questions.
    Asking the right questions will serve you well for two reasons: they encourage your team to think more strategically and come up with more creative solutions; AND, the better questions you ask, the more you’ll learn.
  5. Where the business is most vulnerable.
    If you’re not well-versed in an area, it’s easy to miss the “black oil.” Be sure you’re having the “own the ugly” conversations in every aspect of your business.

Are you (or do you work for) a Winning Well executive?

We would love to interview you as part of our Winning Well research. Please let me know if you (or an executive you know) would be willing to chat. 443 750 1249.

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Posted in Results & Execution 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.

2 Comments

  1. All of your points really resonate with me, Karin, but the one that really gets my attention is this one: learn to ask the right questions. Asking the right questions is essential if we truly want to take our performance to the next level. They help guide us into strategic thinking and action…

    • LaRae, Thanks so much. I’m such a big believer in asking great questions.

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