Leadership is both a privilege and a responsibility. When leaders commit to developing others, their goal should be to bring the unique gifts of that individual to the forefront. It’s not about trying to lead them on your same career path, but to help them find their own inner compass to lead with. It’s about increasing their skills, adding your experience and perspective, and exposing them to opportunities they can’t see.
It is often two people who are vastly different who can have the greatest impact on one another’s career. I spoke with Ellen Kullman, former CEO of DuPont, regarding authenticity and staying true to herself. When she was being groomed as the successor to the CEO, he pulled her aside and said, “I’m going to stop trying to change you because I think you are going to be most successful if you just be you.” When Ellen did take the CEO position, her Sponsor was now Chairman. Whenever she was facing a big challenge, he would say, “You have to do what you need to do, your way. Take in their suggestions and thank them, but get it done.”
“The core of who you are will get you where you need to go. To try and make it something else is just going to make you miserable. It’s just too hard not to have your gut working for you, and you need both your head and gut to get it right.”
As we explore the “R” in our series for how Sponsors SPARK the career of their Sponsorees, the ability to respect their authentic styles of leadership and leverage those is key. The differences between Ellen and her Chairman made for a more well-rounded and complementary leadership team. In your relationships with your Sponsorees, you should strive for the same.
Good Sponsors recognize their Sponsorees’ individual needs, career aspirations, and family or personal challenges. Sponsors should be ready to help find alternate work solutions to keep their rising stars engaged and on track when they are faced with a difficult decision.
Linda Knoll, Chief Human Resource Officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, N.V., tells the story of how she wanted to be a GM and took lateral moves and high-risk positions to prepare herself for that opportunity. However, when she got her first chance, she had just gotten divorced and had two young kids at home. She concluded “if it wasn’t going to be right for me, how could it possibly be right for the company?” Linda’s Sponsor supported her decision, and better still, didn’t change his perception of Linda’s potential or stop advocating for her. Two years later she earned another chance to be a GM, and she took it.
Ask about your Sponsorees’ career aspirations and help them identify their unique gifts. Know what they feel the most passionate about and where they can add the most value. Seek to understand any concerns or situations that are holding them back. If Linda’s Sponsor didn’t know why she turned down the GM position, he may not have continued to support her career, and it may have taken much longer than two years for another opportunity to arise. Sponsorship requires a trusted relationship, and Linda had built trust with her Sponsor to continue to be supported and stay on her desired career track.
Understand that their experiences may be different than yours, so add your perspectives, but don’t expect them to approach everything the same way you would. Encourage them to lead with their gifts and to be true to who they are. Then, speak up on their behalf when opportunities arise.
If you put them in a great position to succeed, it will benefit you as well (more to come on this next week in the blog: “K” is for: Know that You Benefit. You Get as Much as You Give).
Can you share a story where respecting differences cultivated more trust? What have you seen work well in these situations?