by Steve Adubato, PhD
One of the characteristics of a great leader is making a commitment to being a lifelong learner. Change is a constant. We have no choice. Change is all around us. But growth is a conscious decision. The greatest leaders do in fact make a decision that they want to grow and learn. They want to know more and understand different ways to be more effective in their craft.
The great Spanish cellist and composer Pablo Casals was once asked at age 95 why he continued to practice 6 hours a day. Casals responded; “Because I think I am making progress.”
Exceptional professionals like Pablo Casals make a commitment to being the best in their respective fields. That’s what great leaders do. They read, they research, they ask questions of others in comparable positions, they are curious, they take seminars, they go online and they are responsive to executive coaching.
But what strikes me after years of conducting leadership development work is how many professionals in managerial positions come to the conclusion that where they are today is where they are going to be for the rest of their professional careers.
I had a conversation several months ago with a top-level insurance executive who was serving as the COO of her company. “Jane” was discussing the importance of developing younger talent in the organization and said; “These kids need stronger communication skills. They need to be better presenters at meetings and they also need basic management skills.”
However, when I asked Jane what kind of help could be provided to more senior executives in the firm, like herself, without hesitation she responded by saying; “Come on, Steve. Don’t be ridiculous. I’m in my late 40s. How much could anyone teach me at this point? I am pretty much who I am and who I am going to be. The way I communicate today is the way I’ve communicated for the past 20 years. What you see is what you get.”
So there it is. Think about the implications of such a statement and also consider that Jane is representative of countless other professionals in high level positions who are convinced that either they can’t or they won’t change or even slightly tweak their communication, management or leadership approach. What these people are saying is that if they are not listening the way they should be, that is just the way it is. If their presentations are long and rambling and they lose the attention of their audience, well, their audience is just going to have to live with it. If their e-mails are unnecessarily confrontational and negative, that is just who they are. That makes no sense. These people are giving up.
What is of greater concern is that these communication and leadership deficiencies have a significant impact on organizational productivity as well as on those with whom they work. Projects aren’t getting done, opportunities are being missed and fellow employees are turned off. Further, the message is being sent to younger, less-experienced employees that making a commitment to professional self development throughout one’s career is just not important.
It sounds so benign to say; “I am pretty much who I am and who I am going to be”, but the implications of such a simplistic statement for leaders in important positions must be considered.