Last week one of my tasks was leading a team building day with an executive team of a national company. We had a fantastic day together, with one of the highlights being the very last activity of the day.
The final activity of the day was what I called a “random acts of kindness” activity. The activity was set up by each of the nine executives being given an envelope with 10 loonies, and being told to head out into downtown Toronto to make the greatest impact possible on the community. They had limited time and limited money. Upon returning to our meeting location, we told our stories and shared about the various approaches undertaken.
Several interesting approaches were taken, some of which were very “money” focused and some of which had little to do with money. Some of the non-money examples included stopping and having conversations with people who were alone on the street, picking up garbage from the snowy frozen ground and even picking up after an elderly woman’s dog! Some of the money focused examples included buying coffees, paying for parking, leaving a few loonies at a bus stop and buying and handing out lottery tickets, imagining that a winning ticket would really make someone’s day.
The executives found this activity to be rich and rewarding, and some of them left the day actively contemplating when they could replicate the activity with their teams of direct supports back at their field office.
The activity served many different purposes, but the main purposes for which I included this in our agenda were:
- To expand each executive member’s range of perspective and behavior.
- To “work out” and grow several executive competencies such as the ability to quickly scan and assess the environment for opportunities, develop an action plan and act quickly with the goal of maximizing impact.
- To stretch some “social conscience” muscles, with an intense focus on community and social impact.
The busy executive can get so caught up in her daily business and the strategic and operational pressures that she may get overly focused on just a few areas and may end up utilizing many of the same “muscles” in ways that become rote. The repetitiveness of the familiar strategic issues that arise in a particular executive’s world may force her into working the same muscles in the same ways over and over again, to the detriment of her development.
I can remember about 20 years ago speaking with a colleague about my usual 10km run, which I was consistently doing about 3 days per week. This colleague was a long distance runner, and he warned me that if I just run 10km at the same pace all the time, I will train my body to run slow. He said that if I ever want to increase my speed, I will need to vary distance and pace significantly on a run by run or at very least, a week by week basis.
If you have been in the same or similar executive role(s) for an extended period of time, it is possible that you are “training to run slow.” You may have become incredibly proficient at responding to certain kinds of issues, but the repetitiveness is keeping you from developing in other areas. Ask yourself, “What have I done recently to stretch some new executive competency or perspective muscles?” Are you tending to deal with issues and scenarios that have become common place and repetitive? Perhaps it is time for you to do something to stretch yourself.
Prior to the start of a new year I always plan my vacations and my development – the two most important things to me. I learned this from my coach, and I now do this with a lot of my clients. Do you have a plan for your own development for 2016? Does it include some stretching of perspective and range that will force you to “work out” some new executive leadership muscles and build your executive leadership competencies?
Cameron’s Call to Action
I encourage making absolutely certain that you have a development plan in place for this year that will stretch you and make you uncomfortable. Your plan should include engaging in some strategic issues or scenarios that don’t typically arise in your role or even your industry. To achieve continued excellence you must continually develop your range of executive level competencies through learning, stretching and practicing.
Just one way to do this is to get involved in a network of other senior leaders, such as a CEO network. The networks of senior executives that I work with find developmental opportunities as they get challenge by others and as they engage on issues that are less common for themselves. You can also discuss this with your coach, with a request that he or she go on a mining expedition with you to help you identify some competency areas to be stretched.
Put a developmental plan in place and get stretching this year!