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Reminders to Inspire

Are you ready for your next leadership assignment? by Cecile Thaxter, GM, Newmont Mining

Posted by Cecile Thaxter on Sep 8, 2016 12:00:00 AM
Cecile Thaxter


Last week, my husband and I went to a show at Jazz Standard in New York City. The performance was spectacular.

On our way home, we discussed the performance, agreeing that jazz bands are great examples of leadership and teamwork in action but more so, leadership. The band leader gives each member solo moments to shine and excel at their artistry. Each band member generously listens and openly trusts each other in the art of improvisation that usually creates something unique and remarkable. And throughout the performance, the members experiment and learn from errors.

The conversation reminded me of a recent event where I placed three of my leaders in a position to share their knowledge and impress a new C-suite executive.

To prepare for the event, I outlined the objectives, key themes, and desired outcome—in both written and verbal forms. I also provided some background information on the executive to ensure that we had the right pitch.

As we got closer to the event, they rehearsed many times in front of an audience. The initial rehearsal was disjointed but as we got closer to “the big day,” they began to harmonize. Although I wondered about their nerves and readiness, I decided to stick with the plan.

They failed.

In the midst of relaying that story to my husband, he said, “You need to ensure that they are ready.” Without skipping a beat, I quipped, “What does being ready mean, and who is ever ready?”

The conversation shifted to another topic, but I continued to think about my own unanswered question, maybe because only recently my readiness was questioned, dismissed, and recognized—all at the same time.

So, what does being ready signify? What happens when the box with your name on a Succession Plan is suddenly colored green?

I believe that to determine whether someone is ready for that next assignment, provided that foundation and desire exist, we need to consider three things:

  1. Does he or she have the skills to meet the demands of the role and make sound decisions? Ability rather than experience should be your focus—considering not the skills required for his or her current role but rather those required for the contemplated assignment, including the state of that organization.
  2. Is he or she mature enough to be courageous, humble, and flexible? Being self-aware is sometimes more important than being experienced. Understanding your strengths will promote courage while acknowledging your weaknesses will foster humility and facilitate asking for help.
  3. Will people willingly follow him or her in the pursuit of achieving goals? Great leaders listen, learn, and then lead. To accomplish any task or realize any vision, we need people. Leaders have the responsibility to influence people to perform at their best for a common purpose—a purpose they can relate to and own.

I learned what it means to be ready when, just after three months into my current role we began to experience a series of safety incidents. Within a six-week period, we had six incidents—two days with two incidents on the same day.

I had no prior experience on which to rely. I improvised. Through leadership and teamwork, our culture and record improved. How? By using what I had: support, courage, intelligence, and leadership.

As with the jazz band, being ready depends on the intangibles:  the ability to improvise and make good decisions, the capacity to recover from setbacks, and the talent to perform.

Upon reflection, my three leaders weren’t ready—not for lack of desire, coaching, or practice—but for lack of skills, maturity, and leadership for that particular assignment.

They did not fail. I failed them.

After those difficult months addressing our safety culture, I told my boss that I was pleased with how I handled the situation. His reply was, “I knew you could.”

Do you know when you or a member of your team is ready for the next leadership assignment?

Topics: Leadership, Developing People, Managing Your Career

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