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Are You A Ferrari At Work?

By Katherine Craig

Ottawa Human Resource Professionals Association, Up-Date Magazine, November 2013

"Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skills and flexibility to adapt to them."
   - Michael Watkins, The First 90 Days, HBS Press, 2003

Robert was preparing for his new job as an executive in a new organization, and he was already anxious. He was known as a high-performer, who had the potential to delight his new boss...unless he managed to alienate the team before he got out of the gate.

Was his approach "too much" for his future team? He'd been told he was tough to lead, and follow. He knew he was qualified for this position. He asked himself, "How do I ensure I don't screw this up?"

Looking In The Mirror: Are You a Ferrari?
We are focussing on a specific type of individual, so you might see one or more of the following characteristics in yourself:

  • You have a very direct communication style.
  • Colleagues will debate whether you are assertive or aggressive.
  • Colleagues will debate whether you are visionary or single-minded.
  • Followers will debate whether you regularly "leave them behind" or support their independence.
  • You might appear to care more about the project than the team.

Up-and-comer: Your Evolution
When you were in school, and in the early days of your career (before you had a team), this "Ferrari" focus was what caught supervisory attention and marked you as "the one to watch." You got more difficult projects and you continued to move the bar up.

Finally the day came and you were put in charge of a team, and you thought, "Huzzah, I now have the strength of five!" And you continued to chase harder and more ambitious projects using the same methods that had paved your road to success in the past. What was annoying, however, was that some of your team seemed lazy or disengaged. You thought long and hard about how to kick their butts into gear.

Your big wake-up call was when you were told it was unlikely you would be promoted. Prevailing opinion: you might not be leadership material. Apparently you did terrific work on projects, but people didn't always enjoy working with, or for, you. You are outraged. How could this be? You sacrificed countless hours of sleep and personal time and always, ALWAYS delivered the goods.

After the outrage comes self-doubt. What if they were right? You decide a fresh start at a new organization is in order and find yourself in coaching to prepare for your first week as a leader heading up a new department.

Get Them to Follow: Lead To Your Strengths
If you are a Ferrari, rejoice! Your mother was right; you are special. Not only do you have the drive to achieve great goals, you can also be the leader of a team everyone wants to join. Instead of paralyzing yourself with thoughts of what not to do, acknowledge what you are good at, and lead to that.

What you have is focus. You could be described as the "bloodhound" of projects. You get results when others often give up and fall by the wayside. Let's use that strength.

All that's required is a simple modification to your Ferrari approach. It is a change of perspective.

Perspective: Leaders Lead Teams, Not Projects
Of course leaders are responsible for all sorts of projects, however the farther you go up in the organization the less hands-on work you do on the project. Here's the new perspective: your new project is the team. When the team is focused and has great leadership the projects get done. The better the leader's focus on the team the higher team performance and the better the results. High performance leaders = high performance teams. Managers manage projects, Directors direct projects. See how it works? Use that formidable focus to strategize, plan and interact with your team. Then let them do their work.

The Catch: You Miss Being In The Trenches
Someone said to me the other day, "Doesn't everyone want to be a leader?" Well, I think most people fantasize about having more power and influence, but not all want the hours and responsibility that comes with the title.

Others lead for a while but miss being in the trenches. The satisfaction of being hands-on with a project from conception to rollout is not to be underestimated. Often leaders note that their role seems to be filled with intangibles. I went from being a leader to being a subject-matter expert without a team. After a year or so I really missed having a team and went back to leadership. It was great building programs by myself from the ground up and I wouldn't trade that experience but I knew what made me happiest.

The Fix: Maintain Your Perspective
So here are a few thoughts to take on the road of your career and during those first weeks on the new job:

  • Successful careers aren't determined by an executive title. If you are happiest being close to the project then do so and leave the leadership for someone else. People will pay a lot of money for someone who can deliver the goods personally.
  • Your experience in developing and growing projects isn't lost when you become a leader; they are the necessary ingredients for a leader to develop a successful strategy and vision.
  • It's great to be a Ferrari but don't get lost in the chase, remember what you are supposed to be focused on. If you are a leader, it's your team.

Katherine Craig is the founder & CEO of Spearhead Executive Coaching, a dynamic organization dedicated to helping individuals and companies achieve greater success through the delivery of high-performance coaching programs. To comment on her story, send a message to Katherine@spearheadexecutivecoaching.com.