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I could be more effective if.......

Usually on my first meeting with a coaching client I ask several questions: What are your coaching goals and your career goals? What are your leadership strengths? What causes you stress? Then I ask them to complete this sentence "I could be more effective if ..........".

I can evaluate the probability of success with the coaching client by their answer. Some respond: "If I had more time, if they gave me more resources, if the other departments would follow through, if I had more qualified people working for me."

Others say: "If I managed my time better, if I managed my resources better, if I learned how to influence other departments and worked the politics better internally, if I was a better manager, mentor and leader, then I would be more effective."

Obviously the first set of answers externalizes the issue. This person sees the problem in everyone else and not in himself or herself. The second set of answers tells me this individual is aware of their own areas of professional challenges and ready to take responsibility for improving them. It is a subtle but very telling language differential. The first individual may turn into a successful coaching client after exploring their role in the problems and then accepting and embracing their responsibility for the solution. If the client does not move to this new mindset, I would not recommend coaching dollars spent on this individual. Better to wait until they are motivated and ready to change. On the other hand, the person who answered the question the second way will probably be hungry for information on how to improve in these areas. These folks are a delight to work with and the benefits of one-on-one coaching are immediately seen by all, tangibly to the bottom line and intangibly through obvious positive changes in relationships.

You can ask these same questions to assess a good fit in your employee selection process.

Why do good employees turn into bad leaders?

"This article is geared toward Energy Traders, yet the concept of a leadership strength turning into a liability fits for any profession." by Janice Clark

Some individuals possess an innate talent to be a leader. Others rise because they have a few extraordinary characteristics. Climbing the corporate ladder, they soon learn how to strategically align these positive qualities to get the most from subordinates and clients. The same qualities that catapult leaders to the top often cause their doom.

The energy trading sector is a good example of this, where at some trading organizations, disciplined, mature leadership was replaced by the incentive from Wall Street for faster, higher revenues, virtually eliminating the
balanced qualities necessary to the survival of an organization.  The long-term strategy and qualities that led to certain growth were replaced with aggressive thinking and tactics, where the most innovative employees were
generously rewarded.  The challenges traders face are similar to other professions; their strengths if not checked turn into liabilities.  What we have seen in the recent energy trading meltdown is not an entire industry of out of control employees but a handful of leaders and traders who lost perspective.

Once a trader myself, I know it is a tough job.And not many can truly empathize with the enormous pressure traders face daily.  I left the trading environment to pursue a master's degree in psychology, only to return to
coach traders through the stress of their jobs and help them grow into better leaders.  Obviously, organizations
thrive when leaders exhibit balanced qualities. These characteristics create a specific and effective work culture.
Conversely, if these qualities are out of balance they can trickle down to create a stressful and unproductive culture.

A successful trader must be confident, competitive, innovative, decisive and persuasive.

•Confident — Trading is about calculated risk taking, information gathering and analysis, and being able to remain unemotional in volatility.  It takes an extraordinary amount of confidence in yourself, your choices and your organization to do this well.  No one would question the self-confidence of a fighter pilot.  No one should question the self-confidence of a trader either. However too much confidence begets arrogance.  Traders consistently doing well may begin to believe they are invincible.  They may begin to take risks outside their company´s limits, and believe they have power over the market and skirt regulations. The only way to balance the strength of confidence is through humility, which means being open to feedback, especially when you are out of control.  However, this assumes someone in the organization is aware that you have a problem and has the courage to confront you.

•Competitive — Many traders are team players on the surface and work well to maximize value for a company. Yet underneath they have a very high need to compete and win in the trading arena. This competitive streak might have made them good athletes, gotten them into the best MBA programs and finally may have facilitated a swift rise up the corporate ladder of success.  These people need to be rewarded verbally but more importantly financially for their contributions.  When this quality gets out of balance a leader may begin to be more interested  in their own financial gain versus the company´s well-being.  They tend to sacrifice long-term relationships for short-term profits, withhold information from the organization and get impatient with systems and procedures.

•Innovative — Good traders are comfortable in environments that rapidly change.  Most are open to new approaches and know when to stick to the basics.  Ideally, innovation takes into account the corporate vision and direction.  Leaders often neglect to ask themselves is their motivation to stretch outside the box or to  manipulate, scheme or take advantage of the system. Innovators out of balance lose sight of initial corporate strategy.  They can be overly optimistic and accepting of new ideas without seeing the practical barriers.  And they usually  increase the risk of mistakes and ultimately waste time and effort. 

•Decisive — Traders are surrounded with constantly changing data;  two screens full of trading quotes on their desk, monitors hanging from the ceiling constantly streaming a heavy dose of daily news.  If a trader is to become a balanced leader their thoughts and actions must be decisive, with the ability to grasp situations quickly, discern the appropriate time to make quick decisions on their own and when to be reflective or ask for input.  When this characteristic is out of balance they tend to make decisions in a vacuum and often act impulsively.  They may be seen as arrogant and insensitive to opinions without acknowledging the merits of others´observations.

•Persuasive — When this quality is balanced, leaders on the trading floor build commitment by convincing others and winning them over to their point of view.  They use language effectively.  They are knowledgeable and sensitive to political realities of the organization, and use it appropriately.  However when the art of persuasion gets out of balance, leadership is seen as scheming, calculating, crafty or manipulative — all negative  connnotations.  They often are talking when they should be listening or acting. They may lose credibility and develop a cynical reaction in others.

So what does it take to maintain balance? Usually when we are being promoted and rewarded financially for our strengths there is not much incentive to do business differently.  Either there needs to be a discerning wise leader to intervene and require a behavior change or there needs to be a personal crisis — a divorce, a death, an illness, an addiction that hits bottom, all these force an individual to soul search and reevaluate their behavior.  Staying in balance is no easy task.  Leaders in trading situations need courage and confidence to create and maintain this balance.  Creating a successful organization means harnessing different styles and behaviors that as a whole balance the organization.


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