HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsIn search of executive maturity

In search of executive maturity

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In a heated discussion with a colleague the other day, I wanted to scream at him: “For goodness sake, just grow up!”Fortunately I managed to restrain myself, but the incident got me thinking about the subject of executive maturity.

Report by Thembe Sachikonye

Maturity can be defined as the ability to adapt and manage change in a mature way. Your ability to act with self-regulation, to control and redirect your potentially disruptive impulses and moods depends on your ability to suspend judgment, think before acting and respond in a way that will achieve the results you want. (coachquestleader.com)

Now this all seems very straightforward on paper, but in practice, it’s very hard. In that split second before yelling, “just grow up!” there often isn’t the emotional space to pause and choose an alternative verbal route. That is, of course, unless we actively and consciously create that space.

While definitions on exactly what executive maturity means, there is general consensus on the issues it covers. For instance, being able to handle conversation well may seem like a simple thing and something we should pick up in childhood. But surprisingly, many executives struggle to put a point across, or to articulate an idea clearly.

Taking responsibility for one’s own feelings is another element of executive maturity, understanding, for instance, that no one can “make you angry”. No matter what they do, you always have a choice in how you respond and the mature response is a civil, courteous and constructive one.

So if executive maturity is the opposite of reacting emotionally, is there a place for passion at the boardroom table?

One of the most desirable qualities, but also one which we lament the absence of, is passion. When people have passion, work flows out of a seemingly magical place of boundless energy. But passion often comes at a price and often our most passionate people can be our most volatile.

The early years of my career were spent working in advertising agencies.

This was in the days before being politically correct became desirable and we thought nothing of emotional explosions in the office. In fact, it was understood that creative people had many quirks and eccentricities, and those of us who weren’t strictly “creatives” had to tread very carefully around these idea-generating machines. Creative directors in particular, were treated like demi-gods, and the good ones all had fragile egos and terrible tempers, renowned for chain smoking and peppering their speech with expletives, while leaving a chain of broken dreams among their staff. There is no doubt there was a lot of passion in the studios and the creative work produced was exciting and energising, but did we need all the drama to produce the desired results? Probably not.

In 2002, management consultant Larry Liberty published in a book entitled The Maturity Factor his postulation that 80% of America’s corporate executives were not fully mature. He called them “high-functioning adolescents” and suggested that they were mostly preoccupied with looking good, covering their backs and pretending to be fully functional. One wonders whether a more mature tribe of leaders might have prevented the global financial crisis that happened in ensuing years?

Debra Benton, author of the book, Think Like a Chief excecutive officer, says: “Most people want to do better in their careers. They think that working harder on the technical side is all that matters. Competence is generally there, but executive maturity as expressed in behaviours is more important.”

She points out the following six career killers:

  •   Talking too quickly
  •   Giving too much detail
  •   Judging others too quickly
  • Criticising yourself exclusively
  •   Using weak body language
  •   Thinking that skills are enough

Her advice is echoed by other writers such as Marshall Goldsmith in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, subtitled How Successful People Become Even More Successful. When I read this book I recognised so many flaws in my own management style that I had to take a sabbatical from the book until I was better able to cope with its contents and repent!

It is difficult to exercise sound judgement, act consistently and maintain emotional equilibrium all the time, but these are, in fact, the signs of maturity, even outside of the workplace. Being able to act with poise when the pressure is on, being able to win graciously (a la Barack Obama) or to lose with dignity and being able to represent multiple points of view, while at the same time being firm and decisive. If we all had leaders like this, the wheels of industry and indeed of the country would run swiftly and smoothly. Better still, if we all were leaders like this, the world would be a better place.

  •  Thembe Khumalo Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on Twitter www.twitter/localdrummer or visit her facebook page www.facebook.com/pages/local-drummer

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