OCD: The Unexpected Trait that Employees Want (and Organizations Need ) Most in a Leader

by  Julie Winkle-Giulioni  |  Leadership Development

While obsessive-compulsive disorder may come in handy in some business settings, the ‘OCD’ that employees want most from their leaders is something very different. It’s an obsession with career development.

According to a recent study by Lee Hecht Harrison, 91% of employees polled report that career development is among their top priorities. Being able to learn, grow, and expand their capacity is of vital importance to most individuals.  It’s also of vital importance to organizations interested in staying ahead of the customer demand curve, continuously improving products and services, and delivering shareholder value.

Yet only a small percentage of employees are actually satisfied with their organizations’ or their leaders’ commitment to their career development. Climate survey after survey in organization after organization brings this into clear focus. Employees consistently send the following assessment items to the bottom of the rankings:

  • Investment in development
  • Opportunities to learn and grow
  • Career options within the organization

There are, however, organizations committed to bucking these trends… and they’re doing it with leaders who are obsessed with career development. These OCD leaders think and behave a little differently than others.  They:

Focus on an opportunity-filled future. These leaders know how to generate enthusiasm, energy, and a sense of hope by helping others envision the possibilities that lay ahead. To employees, the future feels bright in the presence of these leaders because they consistently anticipate ways to connect what employees need to learn or experience with ever-changing workplace conditions. Because they’ve coached their employees to always be pursuing multiple paths simultaneously, they have confidence that there will always be plenty of chances to advance at least some of those career agendas.

Cultivate peripheral vision. These growth-obsessed leaders can enjoy such confidence in the future in part because they are constantly scanning the environment, keeping their eye on and refining their understanding of the big picture. They remain hyper-vigilant to the factors that impinge upon the business, the organizational culture, and future opportunities.  And they teach those around them to do the same. This focus forward and toward the future allows employees to make decisions today that will serve them well tomorrow.

Assume that everyone has the potential learn and grow. These growth-obsessed leaders live by an abiding belief that every individual is valuable and capable of developing their skills and abilities further.  This belief plays out in countless ways – large and small – every day, telegraphing and inspiring greater confidence in others. Under these conditions, employees put themselves out there, take risks, entertain instructive failure, and make enormous development strides in the process.

Dwell on strengths, talents, and capabilities. These growth-obsessed leaders don’t view development in terms of fixing problems, shoring up weaknesses, or unraveling vulnerabilities. Instead they know that the shortest way forward and toward one’s career goals is through their strengths and talents. Employees who are fortunate enough to report to these leaders quickly learn to focus on what they do well and find ways to magnify those strengths further. This approach to growth is energizing and quickly establishes a positive context for development that infuses itself into all dimensions of work life.

Leaders with OCD (an obsession for career development) do things a little differently. And in the process, they create the conditions for their people – and their organizations – to thrive.

What about you? Could your organizations use a little more of this kind of OCD in its ranks? What else do leaders who are obsessed with career development do differently than others?

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What People Are Saying

Mike Henry  |  03 Jun 2013  |  Reply

Julie, what a great twist on the acronym. I thought you had gone off the deep end when I saw the title. Excellent post!

Sometimes I think many leaders think that career development for their people is an expensive luxury. It’s one of those things they wish they could do more, but in the end, everything else is more urgent and whatever money is left at the end of the fiscal period ends up distributed to stockholders or earmarked for the next drama. The tyranny of the urgent often kills obsession with career development for all but the most courageous leaders.

Thanks for the great post. I hope we hear more about organizations with the courage to be OCD in this sense! Mike…

Julie Winkle Giulioni  |  04 Jun 2013  |  Reply

Sorry, Mike. I should have warned you! The ‘tyranny of the urgent’ does extinguish a lot of interest in career development. And it’s so unfortunate… because the truth is that development can happen organically, right in the work flow. It doesn’t have to be a time-consuming proposition if managers are willing to simply re-focus the conversations they’re already having with their employees. We’ve got to help leaders re-think/re-frame career development… for themselves, their people and their organizations! Thanks for your comment… and trust that I didn’t lose my mind!

Karin Hurt  |  04 Jun 2013  |  Reply

This is great. It’s also so important to encourage employees to be OCD about their own development.

Julie Winkle Giulioni  |  04 Jun 2013  |  Reply

You are right… and imagine the career magic that could be created between this kind of OCD manager and OCD employee! :)

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