Archive for June, 2012

Tenure vs. Skill – Who Gets the Job?

                Should businesses rely on tenure or education to promote or hire?  Should leaders look for experience or skill when trying to solve a problem? It is a hard balance but one that should be explored.  New college graduates are full of ideas, techniques and technology.  Their enthusiasm and drive is an asset to any leader or organization.  One hesitation is lack of experience.  While learning various aspects of a subject through academic means is necessary for the base foundation, application of the knowledge is different.  Through internships and other learning programs, students try to bridge the gap towards understanding real-world use of their education.  However, there is nothing like being in a position, with full responsibility for the team and its accomplishments.  Even leadership taught at service academies (of which I myself am a graduate) does not necessarily translate to direct success after graduation.  The lessons of leadership, along with appropriate use of knowledge, take time to learn.

                That leads us to the other side of the equation – tenure.  Should someone who has been in a position for years be “rewarded” with promotions?  I’ve seen it happen more than once where loyal employees had a powerful advantage.  According to the New Haven Register, in 2010 the average time employees stayed at a job was 4.4 years.  When businesses look at the amount of time and money it takes to hire someone new, train them to be successful within their company and then lose that knowledge if that employee leaves, it is reasonable to value longevity.  Longevity means someone is intimately familiar with that particular company and job.  He or she understands the processes as well as the people in order to get the job done.  That is a powerful mix.

                So what should win out when there is an opportunity for advancement?  To be honest, it is a tough question with no one-size-fits-all answer.  Someone who has been with the company for years may be perfect because of his or her in-depth knowledge regarding the job.  The watch-out is someone who is unwilling to change.  It is easy to fall into a trap of “this is the way it’s always been done” without consideration for alternative methods.  A younger, energized person may also leave the company if it is perceived that promotions are not a part of their 3-5 year career plan. Generationally, Millennials look for the next level and expect to have some kind of step forward within the short-term future. 

Ultimately there is a balance but my thought is this: The education a new college graduate brings to an organization is a valuable quality but education must be “seasoned” with experience.   If a long-term leader can be a mentor for an up-and-coming superstar, there is the opportunity for everyone to win. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Technology and The Team

            While reading an article in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek regarding Jim Messina and his efforts as a campaign manager, one message is crystal clear – technology must be embraced and used to get a particular viewpoint communicated to the masses.  But what about individuals? While many people race to get the latest gadget, app or software, there are plenty of people out there who still resist placing an infinite amount of trust in technology.  To be honest, Team Reluctance has a point.  With security breaches almost daily, costing people and companies thousands if not millions of dollars, confidence can be shaken easily regarding personal information protection.  Also, pushing to store business data and information in the cloud sounds like a great idea; however, anyone who has experienced an outage or a loss of data will attest that online storage may be like putting all of your eggs in one basket with potentially catastrophic results.  Should Team Reluctance win out over Team Technology?

                Nope.  The fact you are reading this blog means technology has major advantages that should be valued.  One of the biggest benefits is communication.  Basically, in one generation, the world shrank.  It was pointed out during a generational discussion I facilitated last week that the Millennial generation is global.  No longer do we rely only on the daily newspaper or the evening news to understand the world around us – and I do mean world. Think about this: It is now commonplace to chat with someone thousands of miles away, something unheard of without high phone bills only twenty years ago.  Texting, tweeting, Facebook posts, blogging, even email – all of these activities are different media in which to communicate.  The messages we share are potentially destined to go around the entire world! This can be a key asset for businesses looking to spread their message.  Whether it is a political campaign, advertising pitch or just a point of view, technology today gives organizations the opportunity to connect with people on a personal level faster and more in-depth than ever. 

                When it comes to smaller groups or tasks, though, leaders have to balance which side they are on – Team Reluctance or Team Technology.  It really depends on the group they are leading and the goal in mind.  If the group is savvy with communication tools like texting or Skype, leaders should explore those communication options in order to help their group be more efficient.  The team may even feel held back if they are not able to use their available like texting!  On the other hand, if the people who comprise the group are not ready to integrate that type of communication into their work habits, leaders should avoid that type of tool.  When it comes to work habits, leaders may make group members uncomfortable or confused, which may slow down productivity if the leader pushes new technology into an unwelcoming environment.  Bottom line: Leaders need to read their team and use the most efficient tools for that particular group.  Leaders, therefore, must be technically competent in order to be on either side of the equation regarding technology integration. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Leaders Must Also Follow

                When we think of great leaders, we usually think about specific people – Martin Luther King Jr., John McCain, Lance Armstrong, etc. However, my thinking about this is that these leaders are the main person, but they never achieve greatness alone. This thought appears to be shared by many people, one of whom, Christine Zust from Zust + Co (training and facilitation consultants), wrote a paper about this point, The Best Leaders Know When To Follow.  I particularly liked her statement, “They were successful because they enabled others to achieve greatness and they allowed themselves to follow”.  What does that mean? It means that individuals in positions of leadership have a team working with them to achieve goals together.  When leaders micro-manage, it stifles the creativity and productivity of others.  Christine uses the word “enable” when referencing leaders, which I find particularly appropriate.  One of the definitions of the word enable is “to give power, means, competence, or ability to.” Doesn’t that sound exactly like what you would do to develop leaders?

                Think about a corporate meeting or a group strategy session: A bunch of people are sitting around a table working on a problem or a task.  If everyone is contributing and participating in the work session, the meeting is highly productive.  If the meeting or project serves only as a validation of the one head person’s idea or direction, the group may not provide optimal results.  During a productive meeting or project, the leader may at some point actually be someone else in the room with a bright idea or a new strategy to achieve goals, not the figurehead, like Bill Gates, that the public recognizes.  Shocking as this may sound, it is occasionally better for leaders to remember to listen and follow others as well as to lead in order to remain humble.  Humility is one of the virtues that repeatedly surfaces as a key leadership trait.  It is important to note, though, that there is a distinct line between humility and meekness.  Humility keeps a leader’s ego in check while appearing meek is in direct contrast to the concept of strong leadership.  So the idea is this: Leaders are strong because of their team and as such, leaders must listen and be ready to accept input/help from their team since it enables the team to reach their own potential.  One last thought to keep in mind, at the end of the day it is the leader who has the ultimate authority and responsibility.

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Motivation – Where’s Your Focus?

                 I doubt this will be the only blog post I write about this topic since motivation is at the heart of what makes a true leader.  But this is the first one.  I started thinking about motivation after watching a brief news clip about Colonel (ret.) Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War.  His story is just as amazing as you would expect from a MOH awardee. He was wounded with shrapnel, bleeding from his head, yet he went back into the battlefield and rescued 14 of his fellow soldiers before he collapsed and had to be taken out by medevac.  When asked why he returned to the battlefield 14 times after he was bleeding profusely, he said, “I thought I was the only guy who could do anything… If the situation were reversed, [the men] would do the same for me.”

                Col. Jacob’s was in the middle of battle and thought only of his men.  His own pain was of little concern at that moment.  His source of motivation was saving the lives of others.  I believe that is the mark of a true leader.  The purpose of his action was in no way self-serving, but purely for someone else.  Many times, our decisions or our choices are made with some hint of self-preservation or self-centered thought in mind.  I admit that I am just as guilty as anyone in that regard – it is part of our human nature.  Looking back on my life, I notice that the times I’m at my best are the times I’m focused on something or someone else.

                What does this mean for leadership?  Should we all run out into the field of battle to be tested? Probably not the wisest of decisions, yet we should be grateful for all the men and women who do each day.  However, we can each do our part in our own capacity, especially in business.  I was told of a business owner who refuses to communicate with his people and has a rather dictatorial approach to his company.  Now I am not personally acquainted with this business owner and cannot speak to the truth of the accusations, but I could clearly see the impact on the employees through our conversation.  It appears to the employees as if this owner’s motivation is NOT the company and NOT the employees.  The people I spoke with do their work and like their jobs (for the most part).  The take away is this: Think about how much more powerful, energetic and ultimately more profitable this business could become if the owner’s motivation was shifted in a different direction. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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