(This is one of a series of articles on the value of Leadership Thought Guides and Performance Tracking)
Why Thinking like a Leader and Tracking Your Performance are Key Components for Increasing Your Leadership Success in Today’s Work Place
By Ervin (Earl) Cobb
We have all heard a form of these universal adages, “You are what you think” and “if you can’t measure it, you can’t change it”.
However, it wasn’t until after spending thirty-four years in both the technical trenches and in the humble halls of senior management in some innovative and pioneering Fortune 500 companies like Honeywell, Motorola, Reynolds and Reynolds and Wells Fargo Bank, that I gained a genuine respect for the roles that thinking like a leader and tracking your own on-the-job performance play in your ability to move from the cubical to the corner office. I now know this to be true regardless of your profession, your industry or your organizational culture. I also learned, through the school of hard knocks that by accurately digesting other’s experiences and accomplishments, you can become a more thoughtful professional and propel your own career success.
In a recent conversation with a colleague, I was asked to put some meat on the bones of this idea and to provide some personal examples of why thinking like a leader and tracking your own on-the-job performance are key components for increasing leadership success in today’s work place.
Well, here are three common workplace situations that helped me become more aware of the power of thinking like a leader, the value of thought guides (in person or in narrative) and the importance of tracking my on-the-job performance.
- Fresh on the job with a brand new degree and/or certification
I started my career as a member of an Advanced Engineering Program within a major mainframe computer company. The goal of the program was to accelerate the professional growth of its members and to transform successful students into successful workers.
As we all know, academic qualifications and certifications are important to be competitive in any job market. However, as I learned quickly, the ultimate key to success within any profession or organization is to become intimately aware of the standard processes, procedures and methods of operation that were in place when you arrived and will most likely be there when you leave. Then, when you master the basics, decide if you want to be a leader or a follower. If you decide to take the leadership track, there are a few things that you should do.
First, identify a few proven leaders in the organization and get close enough to them to understand how they approach their leadership roles and how they have been “taught to think.” It will be quite beneficial for you to become aware of what they think about most often and why. It would also be good to know the boxes that they check within the organization to sell their ideas and the best of communication style to use (up and down the organization) to be heard.
Above all, make sure you get close enough to understand the company’s scoring sheet (i.e. how you are being graded by those who matter) and make sure you keep your own score (to know where you stand). By learning to think this way, I moved from systems engineer to program manager within five years for my first college degree.
Personal Adage: The sooner you learn how to think like a successful leader and become promotion material, the sooner you will get promoted. Also, always remember, once you get near the top you are only there at the pleasure of the King…or the Queen.
- The first big project within a seriously matrixed organization
I was promoted to my first big project when I was 28 years old. It was within a seriously matrixed organization which was a part of a Fortune 100 multi-national company. As the project quickly morphed into a $100 million classified government contract with over 200 team members and multiple military customers, I found myself seriously in need of a leadership playbook to follow. As an engineer, I had no problem thinking like an engineer. However, as a young project manager, I had plenty of project management skills but few of the interpersonal skills and leadership skills required to stay connected to and in control of multiple functions with competing agendas.
As a result, I was quickly overwhelmed. It was not until I was fortunate enough to find a senior mentor and guide who gave me weekly pointers as to what I should be thinking about and what I should be doing on a daily basis that I began to re-gain control. I recall taking notes during each of our weekly mentor/mentee meetings and constructing a to think about list as well as a â€œto do and when list. I would carry both lists with me daily to track my actual performance against my plan.
To this very day, I still begin every major project with both a think about list and a to do and when list to ensure that my thoughts, as a leader, are at the level that the tasks at hand require and that my daily performance is consistent with my plan.
Personal Adage: If I haven’t been there and haven’t done that, I will seek out where I can quickly get a glimpse of what I need to know and go there.
- The need to elevate your game in order to move to and succeed at the next level
While working longer hours and taking on more responsibility in your current job may seem to be the right thing to do in order to move to that next level, it was rarely sufficient during the course of my career and is even less sufficient in today’s work environment. Successful career mobility is anchored around your ability to elevate your game and to take advantage of opportunities that surface beyond what you are doing today.
I recall being asked by a corporate board member to move from my role as Chief Operating Officer to the role of CEO of a venture-backed high tech company that I had joined only a year prior. I immediately realized that I would have to elevate my game and begin to think like the CEO and to do the things a CEO would do on a daily basis as compared to my previous role. Since the opportunity surfaced later in my career, I was equipped with the skills and the emotional intelligence to make this kind of pivot.
But, regardless of the stage of your professional career, when you have a need to move to the next level of job performance or to the next job, having a answer to these three questions can be paramount to successfully reaching your goal:
1). Are my thoughts consistent with what will be required in the new role?
2). Do I have a platform of activities/actions that, if executed, will ensure a successful transition?Â and
3.) Do I have a method of tracking my progress from start to success?
Personal Adage: Once you have the degrees and the credentials, your thoughts are key to increasing your leadership influence and accelerating your career growth regardless of your profession.
ERVIN (EARL) COBB is a Project Manager and a retired technology executive. His background includes senior leadership positions with Honeywell, Motorola, Reynolds & Reynolds and Wells Fargo Bank. He is the author of The Official Leadership Checklist and Diary for Project Management Professionals, Focused Leadership: What You Can Do Today to Become a More Effective Leader and The Leadership Advantage: Do More. Lead More. Earn More.
Project Leadership and Leadership Development