An excerpt from Chapter Eleven of our upcoming book: ‘Suits, Guitars & 3D Glasses, A Practical Guide to Corporate Maneuver Warfare’
He’d spent every morning that summer with his hero, and for that 10-year-old boy, riding around the farm sitting on the passenger end of that long bench seat was the stuff of dreams. The boy knew better than to ask, but he longed for the day he would hear his grandpa utter the words: “You wanna drive?” Grandpa would stop that old Ford truck here and there, and the boy would dutifully carry out whatever task he was assigned. Hopping back in and hoping…all summer long. The morning it finally happened he slid behind the steering wheel and was immediately distracted by smells of tobacco and brake fluid he hadn’t noticed before, and a huge, toothy grin stretched his cheeks as he carefully listened to his grandpa’s instructions.
“Turn that key and she’ll start right up” Grandpa said as he buckled his seatbelt and spat out the window.
I know how to do it the boy respectfully muttered to himself.
“The pedal on the right makes you go, and the one on the left makes you stop. Loosen up a little on that death grip and turn the wheel to go left and right, and please son…try not to hit a cow…or run off in a ditch. Now take me to the barn.”
He had just received his first lesson in driver training, and by all accounts possessed the technical proficiency necessary to operate the truck: Go & Stop, Left & Right. Within a half hour the boy was growing more comfortable behind the wheel, and after a few days…so was Grandpa; now forever relegated to the passenger side of his own truck.
Now take that same boy with his newly mastered technical proficiency and drop him in the center lane of the beltway around Atlanta doing 80! He may have the technical proficiency to manage the basics of Go & Stop, Left & Right, but in this complex environment with all the other traffic, the speed, navigating the exits and on and off ramps, changing lanes, inconsiderate NASCAR wannabe drivers, etc., he simply hasn’t developed the practical proficiency to employ those same basic skills that define technical proficiency.
The U.S. Marines describe an individual’s combat readiness based on technical and tactical proficiency nearly the same way as we described technical and practical proficiency above. In simplest terms, an individual Marine Rifleman must have the technical proficiency required to care for and properly wear his gear, clean and maintain his weapon, and when required, deliver accurate, debilitating fire on the target. Go & Stop, Left & Right…the basics. To be effective in battle though (the equivalent of driving around the Atlanta beltway) that Marine must also possess the tactical proficiencynecessary to employ his technical skills in the environment for which they were intended: the complex, highly dynamic, modern battlefield, with other Marines running around carrying out their own duties as part of a small team. Likely combined with a larger effort that involves perhaps hundreds of Marines from the rest of his battalion and from other units; tanks, artillery, aircraft, and possibly other armed services as part of a combined effort to defeat the enemy…yeah, it just became decidedly more difficult to manage Go & Stop, or Left & Right, and all the technical proficiency in the world is useless without the tactical proficiency to employ those basic skills.
The Big City Driving analogy enables an understanding of the leader’s true role in developing people. It is relatively easy to develop that farm boy’s technical proficiency, and if he needs more basic skills (like operating a manual transmission) it would be simple and straightforward enough to teach. His practical proficiency though is altogether a different matter, and developing those skills will take time, focus, planning, practice, and a very deliberate approach…usually with a healthy dose of help, experience, and the wisdom of others.
It should be widely accepted that developing people within an organization is a responsibility normally associated with leadership, but the task is sometimes overlooked or simply overcome by events. Creating and executing a plan to develop your people clearly benefits those individuals by coaching them into a better understanding of a leader’s perspective on growth, and it also directly improves the organization while implicitly maturing your own skills as an effective leader. The more complex the environment, the more critical it is for leaders to grasp Big City Driving and clearly understand the distinction between training people technically and developing them practically. The leader’s biggest challenge might be not seeing the value in deliberately distinguishing between the two, or worse, foolishly believing that it’s just common sense and will happen on its own.
“Training” is what Grandpa gave the boy by teaching him the basic technical skills he needed to drive the truck. Unfortunately, “training” also tends to be the default path when leaders consider individual development plans. Effectively developing people focuses more on their practical proficiency, and requires planning, foresight, and an understanding of organizational and individual goals.
Practical proficiency is understanding the strategy and structure of the larger organization, how to effectively apply your technical skills within that organization, and how to manage the relationships and integration necessary to get your piece to fit into the bigger picture.
Developing people focuses on the future and the potential for increased responsibilities, expectations, and performance. Developing people is softer and more difficult than training them, but done correctly, it stretches their capabilities and allows for growth. It enhances team loyalty by exemplifying the leader’s personal interest and encourages innovation and creativity by fostering a sense of belonging. Demonstrating to people that their individual growth is a catalyst to the overall health of the organization also propagates an environment in which it is easier for them to stay motivated and engaged. Developing your people is time-consuming, may require additional resources, and definitely requires a leader’s focused effort. Fortunately, it can be viewed and justified as an investment rather than a cost, and with significant ROI for the organization as well as the individual. Your ultimate goal as a leader should be to ensure that both technical and practical proficiency is developed and that it is done in such a way to benefit both the individuals and the organization.