Leaders Get Honest Feeback Too Late in Their Careers (PART TWO)

My colleague and I sat down with Terry for a two hour feedback dialogue.  As you will recall from Part One of my blog entry, Terry was a 53 year old senior manager being evaluated as a potential CFO succession candidate and future executive officer for a large international energy company. 

Our assessment process was customized to the company strategic direction, was multi-modal (including video footage) and quite thorough, so we were quite confident about the insights and results we were about to review with Terry.  The feedback process involved going through in dialogue fashion each of the self-scored psychometrics we used, observation highlights from the Day in the Life of an Executive assessment center which included some select video footage, key themes from the career interview and finally the messages conveyed through his 360⁰ feedback.  Of course, we included our perspective on his strengths and vulnerabilities as a potential future executive. 

As we went through the feedback process I noticed that Terry’s expression was increasingly sullen.  While Terry certainly possessed considerable strengths having achieved his current role as Director of Treasury, he also had some pretty significant vulnerabilities that were factors in his consideration as a CFO candidate. The most notable of these was his evident failure as a team leader. The working environment he created was toxic; he lacked interpersonal skills, placed very little importance on developing others, and was inept in building an effective team.  All these might be overlooked somewhat if he was an individual functional specialist, however, as a potential CFO he would be leading a department of about 200 in a company going through a lot of change.  However, the kicker was that this was virtually new news to him!  Here he was entering the last third of his working life and he had NEVER had this feedback before.  And this wasn’t just situational. 

Other assessments we used plus our observations of, and exchanges with Terry highlighted the fact that he had strong tendencies to be volatile, distrustful, indecisive and arrogant suggesting that such traits were part of his core make up….or as we say in the business, “hard-wired” and thus very difficult to change in any short time frame.  In short, he did not have a hope in hell of being a successful CFO in this company.  The sad part is that he was devastated with what he heard.  If Terry had gotten some clearer feedback 15-20 years earlier he would have had some time to do something about it to improve his career trajectory. 

This is a career tragedy and completely avoidable.  Companies should invest much more in assessing and providing feedback to their mid-career talent and not wait until they are senior leaders late in their career. This would also clearly message to such talent the company’s value in development which is a significant lever for retaining high potentials.


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