Just Be You

Leadership Excellence

August 7, 2007

by Marshall Goldsmith

Is your company competing for top talent? Do you participate in hiring decisions or developing leaders? If so, pay attention! The workforce is changing dramatically–in two years, there will be more members of the Millennial Generation than Baby Boomers. The work environment requires increased global savvy, virtual skill, and technological knowledge.

Rapid change is the order of the day, with global mergers, acquisitions and shifts–and the resulting talent and leadership challenge will likely determine the success or failure of your organization between now and 2020.

As they consider opportunities to advance their careers, talented ‘high potentials’ share five concerns.

1. To what degree can I trust you to develop my talents and skills? One talented manager asked for training, and was told that there was no budget for it. Despite the company’s message of valuing the development of people, if training isn’t in the budget, it isn’t believable. When it comes to development, do your actions match your words? Will you use skilled coaches and mentors to help talented people leverage their strengths as well as identify and overcome blind spots?

2. To what extent will this job challenge me? Most satisfying jobs combine leveraging individual strengths with a strong learning curve–neither so flat as to lead to boredom nor so steep to lead to anxiety. One fasttracker remarked, ‘Please help me anticipate routine, not make me discover it as an unpleasant surprise.’ They seek challenges that prepare them for leadership positions.

3. How do you honor requests for ‘next steps’ in my career progression? With flatter organizations, the path upward requires lateral moves. People want to know how a lateral move will round out their skills and prepare them for taking larger roles. Help them see the big picture.

4. What opportunities will this job really lead to? People now expect to have several different careers (not just jobs), and they want to know how skills they develop in this position will translate into other positions–and to other careers. As top talent is more likely to organization-hop, you must address this issue or expect that the best and brightest will eventually leave.

5. How much will you support my living a balanced life? People are interested in work-life integration issues.

What accommodations do you make for unforeseen family issues? What transfers or global assignments can they anticipate? People may not ask these questions directly, but your answers will determine if they employ their talents with you or with the competition.

What Really Matters?
We encourage you to ask and answer the big questions about what really matters to reawake your passion for what you do. You might even decide to write your grandchildren.

Dear Yet-to-Be-Born Grandchildren, Greetings from the past! I was lucky to spend time with Peter Drucker. He encouraged people to ask, ‘Who is the customer?’ before they do anything.

I finally understood the importance of that question when Larissa MacFarquhar, a writer for the New Yorker, wrote a profile about me. Larissa spent two months traveling with me, and interviewing my family, my clients, and people who work with me. She then wrote a long story and published it for 800,000 people to read. This was a little scary, since some of the New Yorker profiles can be pretty negative, and I didn’t get to read it ahead of time.

I originally thought that my ‘customers’ in doing this profile should be my clients–the people who pay me to do my work. I thought that maybe I should ‘be careful of what I say’ and try to act appropriately.

Maybe I should be careful not to embarrass anyone. But, as Larissa began to follow me around, I figured out who I really wanted to be my customers for this profile. It was you, my grandchildren. I decided that this profile was a special opportunity for you to get to know me.

I decided to just act like myself. If I had acted like someone who was too careful of what he said, it would have been a story about an imaginary person, not me.

Your grandmother and I discussed this, since she’s in charge of our money. I told her to assume that we were going to lose $150,000 in business because of this profile.

I figured that by just acting like me, I might annoy someone who wouldn’t want to work with me anymore. I figured that it would be worth the $150,000 to have a brilliant writer spend two months on a story about me that I could send to you.

As it turns out, I was glad that I just acted like me. I received approximately 300 e-mails about the profile. They almost all said the same thing: ‘The good news is: It sounds just like you. The bad news is: It sounds just like you!’ My fears about losing business as a result of this profile were unfounded. Not only did I not lose any business, I was later interviewed in the Harvard Business Review and many other publications.

I ended up with more clients–not fewer.

From this experience, I learned this lesson: Just be you. You are good enough. In the long run, any success you achieve, if you don’t act like yourself, won’t seem real anyway–you’ll just feel like an imposter.

Do What’s in Your Heart
I was one of the original developers of 360-degree feedback. I help successful leaders achieve a positive, longterm change in their behavior. I also try to help my clients (and everyone around them) have a happier life.

My greatest contributions in my career have come from stuff I invented.

No one can tell you how to do anything that hasn’t been done before. To do anything creative, you simply have to make it up yourself as you go.

If you have an idea that sounds good to you, go for it. Just be you. Do what is in your heart. You may fail, but at least you try. Don’t waste your life worrying too much about being normal.

Lots of people are normal. It is more fun to be different. Just be you.

When your grandchildren read the story of your life, make sure that it is really about you. LE

Patricia Wheeler is an executive coach and Managing Partner in the Levin Group. Patricia@TheLevinGroup.com. Marshall Goldsmith is a leadership coach and author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Visit MarshallGoldsmithLibrary.com.

ACTION: Cultivate your authenticity.