I’m a peacock!!! (what to do when your boss won’t let you flap your wings and fly)

Development.  Growth.  Character building.  Resume expansion.  Skillz.

As employees, we are looking for more than a paycheck when we come to work.  We  hope the job is some sort of means to an end, whether it’s fulfilling our lifelong dream of being a CEO, or simply a chance to “pay our dues” or “learn something new” on the way to that mythical “perfect” job out there.

So when our manager keeps us from growing on the job, it gets us miffed.  Some might even say snippy. Or, in extreme cases, terribly vexed.

There’s data that support the general annoyance felt by employees whose growth has been stymied.  Engagement studies continue to indicate that career development is a key engagement factor for most employees.  In fact, less than half of all employees believe they have career opportunities with their current employer.  Interestingly enough, another key engagement factor is trust in leadership…so if you have a manager who lied about the development opportunities your position offers, you’re probably not terribly engaged at the moment.   And now we’re backed to being terribly vexed.

The good news is that you don’t need 100% buy-in from your manager in order to grow.  I happen to subscribe to the belief that employees should own their own development, and as such, it is up to us to find ways to demand a chance to flap our wings and fly.  (It’s a reference to The Other Guys.  You’re welcome.)

See?  He's not flying.  And he's sad.
See? He’s not flying. And he’s sad.

Without further ado, here are some suggestions on how you can “encourage” an uncooperative boss into helping you grow and develop:

  • Be specific about your requests: This is slightly more than just “ask for it” (which is still good advice, but may not work with this type of boss).  You need to know what it is you want to accomplish with your development.  If you say to me, “I want to develop.  Develop me.”, I wouldn’t want to help you either.  It’s too vague!  Get some specificity.  If you are looking for more budgeting experience, ask your boss if you can sit in on a financial review meeting.  If you want eventually to be a manager, volunteer to lead a few projects.  Just mapping out some specific development goals for yourself will help move you in the right direction.
  • Help your coworkers on projects outside of your skill set: This is an awesome way to grow…and to get brownie points for “teamwork”.  Yes, you’ll have to figure out the best way to prioritize your time so you still get your work done if your boss isn’t fully on board, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from your teammates.  Each of us brings unique skills and experience to the table, and there is no cost to learning from each other.
  • Seek out a mentor in another department: Let’s face it – sometimes you take a job that isn’t the greatest because of the opportunity to work for a certain company.  But now you’re stuck in that department because your boss doesn’t care about your career development.  Unless you are physically chained to the desk, you can move about the office, building relationships in different departments and asking for advice and guidance from others.  (If you ARE physically chained to a desk, you may want to call HR.)  Seek out the people who already are what you want to be when you grow up and learn from them.
  • Volunteer with a local industry-specialized membership chapter: An excellent way to build your network within your industry is to belong to and volunteer with a local chapter of that industry’s organization (e.g., SHRM).  This will allow you to stay current in the latest and greatest within your chosen profession, you’ll meet lots of amazing people, make some great friends, and build your brand.  And you get to brag about the fact you volunteered.
  • Read: And that means more than just browsing the headlines on Yahoo! or glancing at your Twitter feed.  Pick a topic you’re interested in, that’s relevant to your development goals, and hunt down some great books…and commit to reading them!  (Here’s a list to get you started.)  I LOVE to read, so this one seems like a no brainer to me…but I know some folks would rather gouge their eyes out then sit still and read a book.  I get that.  So try an audio book (you can get them from libraries, iTunes, whatever).  If they make a movie from it, watch that (worked for Freakonomics).  Subscribe to some industry magazines.  Just find a way to stay up to date in a meaningful way that makes you think.

This is just a short list of things you can do to keep you growing and learning even if your boss seems determined to keep you stagnant.   Hopefully you see that it doesn’t take much to overcome the perceived obstacle of an uncooperative manager – each of us makes a choice about our own engagement.  Don’t settle for whining about your lack of growth – flap your own damn wings and fly!

Have a suggestion on how to harness your inner peacock?  Share in the comments!

Leadership training gone wrong (and how to fix it)

Recently, I spent 3 hours of my life sitting in a leadership “workshop”. I use quotes, because it was more like a speech with limited table activities (big room, lots of people, blah blah blah). While the speaker did a good job, the content was nothing anyone hasn’t seen before – a couple of nice concepts sprinkled on a sundae of been there, done that. Ironically, I attended this on the same day my husband (who is more receptive to training than most because of what I do for a living) attended a mandatory training that was less than life-changing.

The confluence of these two sessions got me thinking about the state of leadership development out there. There is a LOT of crap that people are paying good money for that ends up being repackaged versions of successful books from the past. (The session I mentioned earlier wasn’t that bad…but it set off this train of thought…that, and this blog post by Laurie Ruettimann – if you’re not following her, you should be.) The laziness out there really chaps my hide because it perpetuates the myth that leadership training sucks. As a person with a pretty strong background in that arena (leadership dev, not sucking…I think), and as someone who has had to preview way too many awful training programs, I take it personally when someone knowingly puts out mediocre work.

20130424-204818.jpgThe reality is, there are some truly amazing and effective programs out there, and some equally amazing organizations who can help you meet your development goals. The Center for Creative Leadership, Franklin Covey’s Speed of Trust, Crucial Conversations, Disney Institute, Situational Leadership…lots of great stuff. Sadly, few leaders (or L&D groups, apparently) know how to pick a good program. They sign up for whatever sounds good and hope for the best.  And even more depressing is that there are a lot of training professionals trying to pass off sub-standard content as “groundbreaking”.

So in an effort to keep the development pool undiluted by “meh”, and to provide some guidance to those of you looking for a session/workshop/vendor/etc., I submit the following ways to make leadership training more meaningful:

  • Get on with it: I know context is important. But do we really need 45 minutes rehashing what “leadership” is? There’s a good chance everyone who has sought out leadership development already has their own ideas of what leadership is, so take a few minutes to get everyone on the same page as to how you’ll be referring to leadership in the session…AND MOVE ON.
  • What are the objectives? If the session description can’t articulate the expected learning outcomes, you’re in trouble. And if you as a learner can’t articulate your expected learning outcomes, you’re in trouble. And this might just be my soapbox, but don’t trust an objective that uses “understand”. Can you measure “understanding”? Yes? Then say how, and use THAT word instead. Which leads into my next point…
  • Awareness is not actionable: Let me be clear – awareness is a vital component to development and change; however, it is not in and of itself a solution. What are you going to DO with that awareness? Too many trainings spend the bulk of the time on making you aware of stuff, but then gloss over HOW to affect real change. People probably know they need to talk to their team better. So how do they do it? Share some concrete steps, not just high level concepts and pretty pictures.
  • Make sure the learner is a willing participant: Nothing makes me sadder (in a training context) than hastily developed generic mandatory leadership training. It’s out there. I’ve even implemented some (don’t judge me too harshly). Look, I get that this one is tough.  It’s kind of a “lesser of two evils” decision sometimes. So if you have to mandate training to ensure evil managers let their people attend training, mix it up a bit. Do what you can to let the learner pick the topic/session relevant to them. Structure the content in a way that allows the learner to co-create the experience. Be a good enough facilitator to be able to adjust the material to the needs of the audience.
  • Results matter, not your words: This is for the instructional designers out there. As long as the learning objectives are met, does it really matter that the facilitator didn’t say every word you wrote? A good facilitator knows how to get the most put of your material – let them. Work with them to explain your choices, outline non-negotiables, and then let it go. The learners will appreciate it, and you won’t go crazy trying to reign in those diva trainers. 😉 (I say that with great respect – I have had the privilege of working with some amazing facilitators. I’m talking to you, Jim Unger!)
  • DO SOMETHING: Development without supported practice or real world application isn’t development. It’s lip service. Nuff said.

We who believe in the power of leadership development need to hold our fellow practitioners accountable. And we who want our leadership development to make a difference should demand better.

I could go on and on and on (and some of you would say I already have!). As you may have surmised, I’ve got some opinions on this topic and could probably fill a book with them.   But I want to hear from you – what do YOU think leadership development should include? Do you have a horror story we could all learn from? Share in the comments below or send me a note!

Almost anything can become a learning experience if there is enough caring involved.
– Mary MacCracken