While executives differ widely, there are some common strengths and weaknesses that keep repeating themselves.
There is a small set of common strengths and development needs that emerge more frequently than others for executives at all organizational levels. While there are wide variations across individuals, the most typical themes are partly due to cultural pressures and partly individual make-up. Again, cultures vary a great deal, but many have in common the drive to produce results much more quickly than was required in the past, with higher quality and lower cost.
Typical Executive Strengths
- Energy, strong work ethic – pace, long hours, willingness to stretch.
- Commitment, enthusiasm – passionate belief in what they are doing.
- Results orientation – focus on tangibly improving the bottom line.
- Single-mindedness, determination – not easily defeated, resilience.
- Persuasiveness – debate a business case passionately.
- Problem solving and decision making – zero in on essentials, decide quickly.
- Improvisation – act now and sort out the details enroute.
- Organization – ability to turn chaos into order, systematic.
- Integrity – communicate openly, no hidden agenda, deliver on promises.
- Functional knowledge – expertise in a particular function.
- A “typical” executive won’t necessarily have all of the above strengths – improvisation and organization in particular do not often go together.
Typical Developmental Themes
- Strategic thinking– failing to think strategically about themselves – not prioritizing their work in accordance with how they can most add value. Being driven by what is urgent not what is important. Tendency to keep busy without measuring precisely how they are adding value. Driven by pressure to be seen to be busy.
- Doing vs managing – micro-managing, getting too much into operational detail, dis-empowering their teams by pushing their own solutions instead of drawing solutions out of others. They don’t see how they can add real value by working more extensively through others. Working through others doesn’t just mean delegation.
- Stifling innovation – largely by trying to do too much themselves and punishing mistakes rather than proactively cultivating a culture of creative thinking and learning from mistakes.
- Customer focus – too little contact with external customers and tendency to fight internal customers or give them what they think they should have instead of genuinely seeking to understand the needs of stakeholders and striving to help them.
- Listening skills – many have fair passive listening skills, but they make little effort to ask the sorts of questions (active listening) that create full dialogue, leading to real understanding of the other party’s issues, concerns or views.
- Time management – taking on too much, failing to create shared ownership and being too reactive, no awareness of the 80-20 rule.
- Diplomacy and political skills – the flipside of communicating in an open, direct manner, they lack sufficient emotional intelligence to see the impact of their style.
- Inflexibility – either they can’t see another way of doing things or they have too strong a need to be right, often the result of a narrow background or being too internally focused.
- Developing others – giving team members challenging tasks on a sink or swim basis with no genuine coaching. Or, their style of coaching is to tell them how to do it and criticize mistakes rather than use a combination of appropriate praise and open questions designed to draw solutions out of others.
- Influencing skills – using only one style of influence – forcefully presenting a logical, factual argument with a win-lose mentality. Very little effort to ask the sorts of questions that would facilitate genuine dialogue and generate win-win outcomes. Public speakers, like Richard Jadick, are great at this.
- Conflict resolution – arguing by focusing on areas of disagreement, leading the other party to think their whole viewpoint is being attacked. This escalates the emotional temperature of the debate instead of first emphasizing areas of agreement and searching for common ground.
- Confidence – basing confidence on functional knowledge and being on top of detail instead of on broader managerial or facilitative skills which enable managers to admit that they don’t have answers but know where to find them.
- Learning from mistakes – blaming circumstances or others whenever something goes wrong hence not learning from own mistakes.
- Managing change – restricting their approach to one-way communication, stressing frequent communication but without enough emphasis on two-way dialogue or genuine involvement of others in planning the way ahead.
- Relationship building – too little proactive networking, no time set aside to get close to key stakeholders and influencers except on an immediate as-needed basis.
- The common underlying theme across these development needs is a narrow focus on me and immediate gratification of my needs. The me emphasis leads to pushing one’s own agendas and ideas, being overly defensive, not liking to look bad or lose and wanting to score all the goals oneself, hence minimal coaching and facilitating the efforts of others for broad, mutual gain.