Can you be too driven? When I began my career at Intel, this seemed to be impossible. I moved from a sleepy industrial giant called Rolls-Royce to Intel, a company that couldn’t be more driven. It was a breath of fresh air and I prided myself on being a driven leader. If you weren’t driven, you weren’t going to get very far at Intel.
My career stalled out after about fifteen years. I reached the limit of my leadership capability. I remember I focused on driving the organization forward. Leading a large organization in a high pressure role, my drive, individual smarts and work ethic were not enough. I learned to expand my leadership styles and regained my credibility and mojo. Reading a book called Scaling Leadership by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams gave me some new insights about how I likely got in my own way. I could have been too driven.
Scalable and Non-Scalable Leadership Skills
In their book, the authors talk about scalable leadership behaviors. These behaviors harness and grow the capacity and capability of the people around you. In contrast, non-scaling behaviors are more about getting results through your own individual capability. They don’t grow the capability of the people around you. Personal drive, intellect, and work ethic are common examples of non-scaling leadership behaviors. They are necessary for leadership but without scaling behaviors they become limiters. Effective leaders also role model scalable behaviors like strong people skills, team building and soft skills, such as being empathetic and good listeners.
Making Sense of the Leadership Progression
These distinctions help me make sense of the classic leadership transition. How people progress from being individual contributors to leading others. In their individual roles, non-scaling leadership skills are critical and get them promoted to a leadership role. They need to show they are smart, driven and willing to work hard. It is ironic that these same skills can become limiters that hold them back from becoming effective leaders. They don’t develop the scalable leadership skills to compliment them. This happened to me, and it happens to many people like me. With this insight, my career progression could have been a lot easier. I would have focused on growing my scalable leadership skills, instead of relying so much on my non-scalable ones.