Marcia MacLeod (right) says mentoring and feedback were an essential part of career development. Her views were published in the Tulsa World. She retired from WPX as Sr. VP of HR and Administration.
We all have watershed moments as we grow personally and professionally. These times can be career-defining or life-changing depending on how we respond and what we learn.
My grandfather inspired me to go for it in life. He told me I could become governor. Words have power, and everyone needs people who believe in them for the times when you don’t believe in yourself.
By all accounts, my career was flying high right from the start, but I had some blind spots. Ambition and achievement can do that.
At one point, I negotiated a big settlement with the Internal Revenue Service, saving the company where I worked millions of dollars.
At another point, I was supervising people across cultures and around the globe, from Sydney to Singapore. Everything was great. I had arrived.
But there was also the time when an alarm went off. It was when I didn’t get a promotion. I was jealous, confused and doubted myself. It was my wake-up call.
Like an alarm clock, you have options when your “buzzer” sounds. You can ignore it. You can choose to hit snooze and delay dealing with reality. Or you can decide to get up and go forward.
For me, picking myself up off the mat required some soul searching. My greatest moment of revelation came when I summoned the courage to ask the hiring manager a question: why?
You can gain a lot by asking questions, but only if the other person is brave enough to be honest and maybe a little blunt. Honesty is a gift, even if you have to grapple with it.
Thankfully, this person cared enough about me to give it to me straight. They were more interested in my career development than whether I’d take constructive criticism too personally.
I lost the promotion because I was more focused on my own success than helping others win. If I had only known sooner! Self-awareness is a precious thing.
The value of that feedback, however, was immeasurable. It’s still with me years later, shaping how we develop leaders where I work today at WPX Energy, which employs 600 people.
A couple years ago, our board chairman challenged us to devise a development program and succession plan that was different than anything we’d done before.
Recalling my earlier days, to me the success of such an undertaking all hinged on feedback – how it’s facilitated, how often it occurs, and having environments where people can build rapport and trust.
We knew what we didn’t need – more three-ring binders to attract dust instead of interest. We also weren’t afraid to shake things up and do away with annual performance appraisals.
Instead, we’re encouraging monthly one-to-one discussions between supervisors and direct reports.
We’re also employing 360-degree feedback surveys that help employees get input from colleagues.
Some employees are going through a new program, too. It’s a small-group experience that provides communication training, builds decision-making skills and exposes participants to a cross section of the company.
Maybe these formats aren’t right for every company, but they’re a few of the methods we’re testing with our future in mind. Developing strong leaders is the lifeblood of business.
The challenge comes down to whether today’s leaders are willing to do the hard work of giving heartfelt feedback. Glossing over issues or sharing superficial praise at the expense of fair feedback just won’t cut it.
With age and experience comes wisdom. Every well-seasoned leader has stories to share and vantage points that can help people adjust their performance and see their blind spots.
Ultimately, coaching and mentoring is about taking care of tomorrow, polishing your company’s gems and taking the lessons of leadership and passing them on.
A sure way for any organization to fail is to not focus enough on training, development and feedback, or worse, to not to do it at all because of the time or cost. It’s a make-or-break decision.
On the other hand, giving employee development a permanent, purposeful, prominent place within a company will positively affect your bottom line and help attract, engage and retain your workforce.
People want to know whether you’re invested in them, and people want to work for leaders because of what they can learn. Feedback, and a piece of humble pie, worked for me.
“You can gain a lot by asking questions, but only if the other person is brave enough to be honest and maybe a little blunt. Honesty is a gift, even if you have to grapple with it.”
Marcia MacLeod – Retired Sr. VP HR & Administration
Marcia (center) visits with WPX field personnel.