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Unleashing Potential: A Real-World Case Study

by Bruce Court

How do you unleash potential?There are many stories, examples, and a wealth of data that prove organizations and their talent management functions aren't doing as well as they need to in developing leaders.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Here's the story of how one leader is making the most of what he's being given to grow his own leadership capability. By sharing what he's learned, along with using relevant tools, he is positively impacting his team's—and his own—performance. This is his story.

Meet Terry

Terry had been identified as a leader with the potential to move up at least two levels within the organization. He went through a full assessment center experience, in conjunction with 360 and personality assessments.

Approximately a month later, Terry and I met for the first time. The purpose of our time together was to provide Terry with feedback, generate insights for him, offer ideas about his developmental priorities, and create a plan to accelerate his development.

Terry was engaged throughout the feedback and coaching process. His ability to take analytical approaches to decision making was a key strength. He is also a pragmatic and independent thinker. Terry readily admitted that to broaden his perspective and take his business impact to the next level he needed to apply a strategic lens to business situations. He also knew that he needed to work on leading change and developing talent.

The assessment data showed he lacked the ability to influence. He was getting people to comply, but he struggled to gain commitment. The bottom line was that Terry had the IQ to succeed at the next level, but he needed to raise his EQ. Metaphorically, Terry was in danger of heading down a road believing his team would follow him, but, if he didn't change, he would look in the rear-view mirror and the discover that road behind him was empty.

Creating a data-driven development plan

Our conversation turned to development planning and prioritizing one strength to leverage and one area where he needed to grow. Here are some of the development suggestions that emerged from our meeting:v

  • Terry must building stronger relationships with his team members. He needs to know who they are and what makes them tick. Getting to know them personally will give him the opportunity to utilize his EQ as well as his IQ. Terry wanted to schedule meetings with these folks in neutral settings, such as over coffee or lunch, to better focus on the individuals and their needs, motivations, and aspirations, as opposed to business needs or the demands of their roles.
  • Once Terry knows more about his team members and begins to build stronger relationships with them, he will be able to consciously adapt his communication style to better connect with each individual, enabling him to meet the needs of his audience and further strengthen the engagement level of the team.
  • With greater awareness and knowledge of the types of people he has on the team, he can create the appropriate strategies to leverage his influencing skills and apply his executive disposition to gain commitment.
  • In addition, Terry should continue to leverage his strength as a disciplined decision maker and work on being a more effective communicator who delivers clear, direct, and straightforward messages—both in person and in writing—with a strong business rationale.

Terry took the assessment data and the ideas we discussed and drafted two development plans: one for a strength area and one for a growth area. A couple weeks later, we met again so that Terry could review his plans and get feedback before he presented them to his manager, Sally.

The strength area Terry chose was to leverage his communication skills and positive demeanor to further engage and inspire his team. His growth area was to improve his effectiveness in building organizational talent through empowering and developing others.

Following our meeting, Terry revised his plans and met with Sally to seek her buy-in and support. Terry's challenge was that Sally didn't view his growth area as that much of a weakness. Using some DDI research data, Terry put together a business case that included some personal data to justify why his proposed actions were a good starting point for his development journey. He wanted to make it clear he knew the direction he needed to take, and he was motivated to make the most of his development. He also identified multiple application opportunities. Sally agreed to support Terry's plans and his journey began.

Surfacing, activating, and accelerating potential

Terry's story is an excellent example of how potential can be surfaced, activated, and accelerated.

Terry had been identified as a leader with potential. He was on a leader-to-be-watched list, so he was visible to the organization's senior leaders. In other words, his potential had been brought to the surface.

Through the assessment, the feedback and coaching he received in preparing his development plans, and Sally's buy-in, Terry tapped into his motivations, dispositions, and qualities. He had enhanced self-awareness of how development and growth could impact future opportunities. He also received feedback on his strengths and development opportunities from multiple data points, and he had a realistic course of action for what he needed to do to activate his potential and expand his capabilities.

With the development plan in place and Sally's support, Terry could then benefit from immersive development opportunities that enabled him to accelerate his growth.

In other words, the conditions were very favorable for Terry's potential to be unleashed.

Recently, I had a progress-check meeting with Terry and Sally. Here are a few of the insights and some results we talked about during that discussion:

By spending time getting to know the team, Terry realized there is wide disparity in how team members view work-life balance. Because motivations are very different for each individual, a one-size-fits-all approach to communication and gaining commitment won't work. As members of the team get to know Terry as a person, they are opening up to him, offering ideas, and sharing concerns that impact performance and morale.

He also discovered that flat organizations can lead to employees becoming discouraged about career growth, raising the risk they will look outside the organization for new opportunities.

To counteract that perception and improve performance and morale, Terry changed up team members' responsibilities to provide them with fresh challenges. This resulted in at least one of his team members putting a halt to their job search.

This change also created a mutually supportive environment in which individuals were less inclined to act as lone wolves and more likely to consider themselves as part of a team. In addition, it led to the team securing a large piece of new business.

Are you unleashing your leaders' potential?

Terry realized that by sharing what he was learning, along with the tools he was using, he could facilitate personal development within his team. And by taking the time to get to know his team members and what makes them tick, he could have better conversations and drive better outcomes. Because of his coaching, some of the personality clashes that had impacted the team's performance in the past faded to memory.

Want to learn more about how you can unleash the potential of the Terrys on your team? Check out our resources on how to do do just that.

Bruce Court works with organizations on all aspects of their leadership strategy and coordinates DDI’s relationship with our alliance partner, EY. He’s experienced in all aspects of strategy development and execution. Outside of work Bruce likes to travel with his wife, Maureen, visiting places on their “bucket list.” He loves eating at great restaurants, and “sampling” good wine and craft beers. Bruce is also a huge fan of smooth jazz.

Posted: 15 Mar, 2018,
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