Ron Carucci on Rising to Power: The Journey of Exceptional Executives (Transcript)

The problem was — and that’s where we’ll spend the most of our time today. The problem was, the data said you had to do all four well. So people who did three of the four brilliantly were in the failure group. So the reason I kept going back to do more analysis is I didn’t want to have to say you had to do all four well. I wanted to say three of the four is OK, but it’s not.

So we’ll talk about what those four are. The great news was, these weren’t four — like, some weird genetic misalignments that caused this superhuman power in these folks. These were basic capabilities that they had acquired and learned. So the good news is they’re learnable. The best time to learn them is not when you hit your first senior director job or your first vice president job. The best time to learn them is now.

So here’s just some of the things we found that were a little bit shocking to us 69% of the people in our research said, we were not prepared for the roles I’m sure, in your department, that wouldn’t be the case But in other companies, that’s what people told us. 76% said that all of the formal development efforts they had undergone did not prepare them for the challenges they faced. They had great theories and models and read some interesting articles, but what they faced in the challenges was never covered in any of their learning developments. And most of them had no coaching. Most of them had no preparation work before, and none of them– it was in the 80% of what they had afterwards 67% of them struggled to let go.

So they took– as they escalated, they took the work with them. One of the interesting things about the notion of power, we studied, how do people handle the notion of power? And these days, that’s a pretty important conversation 60% of them felt like impostors. They felt like people ascribed more power to them than they actually felt they had themselves. And so they struggled to reconcile feeling like they’re going to, at some point, find me out.

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So you can see here, these are not pretty stats, right? This begins to give a picture for why it is that so many promising young professional aspiring leaders are arriving in positions that they’re not ready for. We can do better. We absolutely can do better. So one of the metaphors we use in the early part of the book is this is very much like wing-walking. Long before you were born, people in the early part of the 20th century would actually get up– both for aerial entertainment, but also to learn how to refuel planes– would walk across the wing.

And of course, the rule number one in wing-walking is never let go of the strut you’re holding onto until you have a firm grip on the strut you’re going to, because that doesn’t go well. Well, too many wing-walkers either let go too soon, or they couldn’t let go. They became paralyzed. And they could never cross the wing. But both types of failures happen on the way up.

Leaders get too confident and too cocky, and they just fly up there without taking lessons with them, or they freeze, and they get paralyzed in the terror of a different orientation and a different view of the world. So here are some of the– five of the numbers of things we found on the way up. How many of you have been involved here at Google in interviewing people for other jobs? Now, I know a little something about your selection process. You actually do a decent job of asking people for evidence-based behavioral events of their accomplishments. But many organizations still interview people using what? Their resume.

And what is it they do with the resume? This is the part where you talk. They go through it. Right. And then you hear eerie statements like this. Wow, look at those great apps you built at your company! That’s what we need! Or, my gosh, look at this incredible sophisticated coding and engineering work you’ve done at your company. That’s what we need!

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Or, wow, look at these great brands you were part of building. That’s what we need! What’s happening in that statement? You’re setting somebody up to fail, because here’s the message you’re sending. You’re saying to them, you have a formula. You have a recipe for success that we would like you to bring here. How many of you have watched people enter the organization– maybe not here at Google, but maybe other companies– and have it not go well? And what’s the term we use after about six or seven months? They’re not a good fit. Right? Which is code for all kinds of things, usually not the issue of a fit.

It’s a failure of context. Right, this person failed to read the tea leaves. They come in with this mythical mandate to prove themselves. You told me this is what you wanted. Right? So they take the bait, and they come in, whether they’ve risen up and got hired by somebody inside, or came in from the outside, they have a mandate. So they took it seriously.

Well, the mandate is devoid of context, right? I don’t want your success formula slapped on my organization. I’m assuming there is some wisdom you can bring with you from those experiences that you can contextualize here. But if you fail to learn me before you try and change me, that’s not going to go well.

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