Through my consulting work — a hybrid of strategic communications, leadership development and team skills building — I’ve noticed a most interesting trend: Young and mid-careerists, especially those who find themselves in executive roles early on, are generally expected to be excellent, not become excellent.
It’s a paradox that can stop even the most talented professionals in their tracks.
As we move from a legacy workplace to a post-digital workforce, professional development for all staff, especially those in the comms function, is at an inflection point. Older millennials, and those before us, were given time and space to grow into our careers. Today’s fast-growth environment — by design — does not allow for natural learning and maturation.
Many modern brands have been built, in no small part, through the contributions of fearless and technically proficient in-house and agency crackerjacks. When an organization is building the plane while it flies it, or when legacy organizations adopt the start-up mentality, critical business functions are often handled by those willing to do the heavy lifting.
However, many of these high achievers don’t benefit from time-in-role. As a result, pain points develop when the sophistication of the brands they built begins to outpace their own.
In this very common scenario, the communications team’s work inevitably falls into a chasm between the strategy and its tactical execution as the initial success plateaus and the stress to perform increases. This situation is most often revealed in subpar writing, weak editorial strategies, poorly considered internal communications processes and ineffective executive preparation.
There is a quiet truth we all know but rarely acknowledge. Being a people person and being an effective communicator are related, but not synonymous. We must encourage our team members to grow beyond their innate talents, to generate insights instead of spitting out data, and develop the ability to think critically.
As communicators, we deal in soft skills that meet critical business needs. And so our career development efforts should focus on nurturing both professional and personal qualities. We must immerse our teams in emotional intelligence development as seen through the lens of their roles.
This is not about tactical exercises. It’s about coaching staffers to think differently. By doing this, we help them get out of their own way and dramatically elevate their thinking, all of which advances their capabilities and effectiveness.
If we expect high achieving, early careerists to drive significant growth, we must give them the tools to make that possible. The beauty of emotional intelligence development is it improves communications outcomes while creating higher-quality, better adjusted team members.
Two birds, one stone!
Meghan E. Butler is the co-founder of Curry+Butler: Writing to Influence, a strategic writing collaborative and speaker coaching service and a co-founder of Frame+Function, a strategic communications and branding consultancy.