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Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership

Leadership books can be turgid, full of unsupported assertions, difficult to read and extremely dull. Too few really engage with the daily messiness of leading, the acute uncertainty many leaders experience or the fragile loyalty offered by  team members. It is a real pleasure, therefore, to recommend Dr Eve Poole’s creative and encouraging book “Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership” (published, March 2017, by Bloomsbury Business. ISBN: 9781472941237).

Poole’s conviction is that real leaders learn their craft the hard way: through “critical incidents” that test their mettle. This conviction is based upon 2003 research undertaken to develop the simulation-based Ashridge future leaders programme. Eve Poole, on the way to explaining what she means by “leadersmithing”, contends that the seventeen critical incidents are the apprentice-pieces of the leader’s craft. Having engagingly introduced and argued the case for each of these apprentice experiences, Poole then explains how capable leaders really learn before defining and exploring the contribution of the leader’s character.

The second part of this immensely readable, good humoured and literary book provides a whole year’s worth of support for any leader who is really serious about their own development. As a leadership coach who often supports organisation’s rising talent, part two of Poole’s book has rapidly become my reference source of choice. Truth to tell, part two is too rich to be fully savoured in one short year: this is a playbook for a lifetime’s apprenticeship.

Naturally, Dr Eve Poole recognises that some of her readers may be drawn to the first part of the book where the theory is beautifully and succinctly explored whilst others will gain most from the more practical part two. Whatever your preference, I would urge you to read both parts because, developing leader, experienced leader, leadership facilitator or coach, the pearls of wisdom to be found here are well worth savouring.

Envisioning The Future

Writing in July’s TD Beverley Kaye and Linda Williams say, “Individuals need the encouragement, resources, tools, and support to envision their futures. They don’t need every possible new app or program, but they do need conversations with managers, coaches, or mentors. They need to take action, be open to learning, be willing to change behaviors, and be introspective enough to clarify their career needs, wants, and aspirations.”

When the world’s largest child focused humanitarian organisation began to embrace online learning and created its own e-Campus I was not surprised to find that the online “Career Development Centre” gained eager followers across the globe at a faster pace than any other development offer.

Based on personal experience as a mature career changer, as a qualified career development practitioner, coach and a former global practice talent leader in the diverse fields of financial services and humanitarian development I so agree with Beverley Kaye and Linda Williams.

My practical guide to career development for those considering a change of career direction is designed to help people who would benefit from some help being, as Beverley and Linda express it, “introspective enough to clarify their career needs, wants, and aspirations”.  It is now available from Lulu publishers.

Who am I?

Changing career in mid-life becomes easier if you have done some work on your values and your passions. Doing so helps many people to understand and to talk about who they are. Regardless of your career to date, your future decisions about career will be easier and more valid if you have a clear understanding of your own orientation toward work, your motives, your values and your self-perceived talents. Being clear about these  helps in focusing career development tactics and enables people to talk confidently about what you will bring to a particular role. My experience as a coach suggests that most people have several passions and that as they get older they make decisions about the passion – or the small number of passions – that are so strongly aligned with their values that they will not give them up easily.

Some people are very clear about their career related values. Others find it helpful to take one of many career assessments. These assessments will help you explore your career interests, skills, your values, and personality. In this post I would like to introduce Edgar Schein’s “Career Anchors”.

Edgar Schein and Thomas De Long developed “career anchors” in the 1970s. They described career anchors as that combination of perceived areas of competence, motives and values that you would not give up: it represents your real self.

Schein’s “Career Anchors” can help you think through your career options and give you a clear understanding of:

  • Your own orientations toward work
  • Your motives
  • Your values
  • Your talents

Use of “Career Anchors” also helps people:

  • Define the themes and patterns dominant in their life
  • Understand their own approach to work and a career
  • Provide reasons for choices
  • Take steps to fulfil their own self-image

As you accumulate work experience, you have the opportunity to make choices; from these choices you begin to ascertain what you really find important. Dominant themes emerge—critical skills or abilities that you want to exercise or crucial needs or values that dominate your orientation toward life. You may have had a sense of these elements but, until now, you may not have assessed them in a thorough way. However, when changing careers in mid-life this self-awareness becomes vital. Knowing how important these aspects of yourself are and how any given talent, motive, or value relates to other elements of your total personality becomes an important “lens” through which to plan and talk about your career change journey. It is often only when we are confronted with difficult choices that we begin to evaluate and decide what is really important to us.

With accumulation of work experience and feedback comes clarification and insight, providing a basis for making more rational and empowered career decisions. Notice the importance of feedback especially if you have participated in work-based feedback processes and have a recent report that you can re-examine.

Through self-assessment the self-concept begins to function more and more as a personal “guidance system” and as an “anchor” that shapes career choice. Out of this process people begin to talk about careers saying that this role is something they identify with whilst that occupation is not something they could ever see themselves doing. This knowledge keeps us on course or in a “safe harbour”.

As people recount their career choices, they increasingly refer to “being pulled back” to things they have strayed from or, looking ahead, “figuring out what they really want to do” or “finding themselves.” This process leads people to gradually move from having broad goals to a sense of knowing better what it is that they would not give up if forced to make a choice. The career anchor, as defined by Schein and his co-authors, is that one element in a person’s self-concept that he or she will not give up, even in the face of difficult choices. And if their work does not permit expression of the anchor, people find ways of expressing it in their hobbies, in second jobs, or in leisure activities.

Schein and his colleague developed the career anchor concept at MIT. An empirical investigation conducted by Catherine Steele and others and reported to the British Psychological Society’s 2007 Occupational Psychology Conference, concluded that the eight career anchors, as measured through use of Edgar Schein’s “Career Anchors: Discovering Your Real Values” is a valid model with satisfactory internal reliability results.

This tested reliability is important to know because there are many forms of assessment available and not all of them are reliable. I recommend that mid-life career changers make use of the “Career Anchors” approach and find that people do find it beneficial. It is recommended for use in  “My Career Development Plan”  which you can purchase here

Schein’s approach to Career Anchors included the use of a Career Anchor Interview to be used after completion of the Career Orientations Inventory. I am pleased to advise about the use of the Interview: it is a particularly helpful process that mid-life career changers have found valuable.

“Career Anchors: The Changing Nature of Careers: Self Assessment”, 4th Edition by Edgar H. Schein and John Van Maanen, published in May 2013 contains the “Career Anchors Self-Assessment” or “Career Orientations Inventory”,  the simple “Scoring Instructions” and the “Descriptions of the Career Anchor Categories”. Guidance on the user’s “Next Steps” and “Choices” are also included.