Lisa Stirgus, Wells Fargo, District Manager/ VP

When Lisa Stirgus first became a district manager for Wells Fargo six years ago, she thought the transition would be simple. “I had it in my sleep,” she said. “I was always a top-performing manager.” But, as her boss had warned, going from managing individual contributors to managing managers presented a new scope of challenges.

Lisa soon realized that with her district being spread out over eight towns and cities across Northern Nevada, she could not be everywhere at once. She had to rely on her managers and the best way to get the results she needed was to mentor her managers in a way that would inspire everyone who worked for them to excel as well. This required an individualized approach, and with 10 managers on her team, Lisa had to learn how to teach to 10 different personalities, adjusting her leadership to fit each one separately and together as a whole. She believes that this is what created the team she has now, a team that has just completed its third straight year with the highest engagement scores in the state!

I have known Lisa for eight years and have heard firsthand from her team how much they admire, respect, and love her. Setting a meeting with her was my opportunity to find out from Lisa’s perspective what makes her a leader that people love.

Lisa started out by telling me of her reputation as a “pit-bull with a smile.” After a chuckle, she said the analogy was something she had taken to heart, and was even proud of. She’s created an environment where she can give honest and sometimes tough feedback—this works because she cares and because her team knows that she genuinely wants them to succeed in life and at work. Giving honest feedback means a combination of positive reinforcement as well as developmental feedback.

“My job is to build, grow and develop talent,” she said. Lisa knows that building confidence together with helping her team identify ways to grow and stretch is the key to breakthrough performance and engagement. Building confidence is an important aspect of a successful team; it changes the game. When a team member has a sense of purpose and confidence, they are going to do a great job no matter who is watching. Once this is achieved, a leader can then focus on providing direction and guidance.

We sat and talked for about three hours and as our meeting drew to an end I had a sense that what Lisa truly loved about being a leader was helping people achieve what they never thought was possible. She has a passion for what she does and believes that if you focus on cultivating talent and invest in developing your team, you’ll not only achieve your goals, but you’ll exceed your goals. It also creates a ripple effect; an engaged team leads to an engaged customer base. Love your team the way that you want them to love your customers. I call it contagious leadership. Setting the bar high and modeling the way every day sets the tone for everyone in the workplace. Lisa is constantly asking herself, “Am I living and breathing what I expect from my team?” It’s a top-down approach and it is truly inspirational.

Liberating Talent

As leaders, we are constantly faced with problems, and moving forward hinges on our ability to generate solutions. Basketball players shoot baskets, doctors cure ailments, and leaders solve problems; it’s what we do. When addressing issues, we typically follow the common method of Problem Solving— we state what’s wrong and then ask questions in search of a fix . For example, “Our managers are leaving the organization; what are we doing wrong? How can we fix it? Who works with these managers?”

While this method works well for processes and systems, it doesn’t work quite as well with people. It forces the team to identify someone as being wrong, and therefore places blame. By putting the blame on an individual or a group, people become defensive and a true resolution falls out of reach.

Another option that can be a successful way around this problem is a simple reframing of the question. Instead of posing the question as a glass half empty kind of problem, it can be posed as a glass half full scenario. For example, “We have great managerial talent and we want them to stay with our organization; how should we go about this?” It might seem like it’s the same question as above, but with a small shift you are highly likely to get better results and more creative solutions. By posing the question with a more positive perspective, it allows your team to discuss the concern without placing blame on anyone. This disarms them, essentially creating an unpolluted opportunity to develop ideas. This approach saves time, promotes innovation, and allows you to tap into the brilliance of your team!

 

 

Plager, Debbie. “Action ‘Thinking’: A Cognitive Look at Action Learning Programs.” OD Practitioner 2009: 38-43. Web. 29 June 2012.

A Little Help Up The Ladder

Recently, I’ve heard a rise in discussion about the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. While both mentor/mentee relationships and sponsor/protégé relationships are important, more people tend to focus on the former. Robin Madell does a nice job differentiating the two in her article, “Having a mentor and/or a sponsor can make all the difference in your career,” in which she quoted Mika Brzezinski, author of Knowing Your Value:

a mentor [is] someone who will offer advice, provide feedback, suggest strategy, and explain company culture. A sponsor, on the other hand, [is] someone who is willing to use his or her own social capital to help pull someone else up the corporate ladder. 

If a person is trying to move up the ladder without actively seeking a mentor, sponsor or both, then they are trying to climb that ladder with their shoelaces tied together. While both are important in achieving success, finding a sponsor can offer additional benefits because of the vast resources available to them. Whereas a mentor is willing to offer advice and suggestions based on their experiences, a sponsor “has some skin in the game” and is willing to put their reputation on the line.

Finding a sponsor is something that can be pursued actively, as opposed to waiting passively and hoping they find you. Without letting the person know what your interest is, the chances of them simply volunteering are unlikely, even if they have considered it as a possibility. Therefore, just because you have not already been chosen by someone as a potential protégé does not mean that you are not a worthwhile investment for someone. It is exceedingly rare for a person to be chosen out of the blue, and even then usually requires some soliciting. Do not be afraid to take initiative, schedule a meeting and be clear about what you are looking for.

So what is a sponsor looking for in a protégé? The resounding answer is loyalty and the willingness to go the extra mile. A sponsor does not want to waste their time on someone who is not willing to put in the effort to take the guidance they are giving. Remember, a sponsor/protégé relationship is a two-way street and one of the biggest things a sponsor gains from a protégé is loyalty and the opportunity to “do the right thing” by giving back. Understanding this can be the key to having a successful relationship with a sponsor. Furthermore, having a successful relationship with a sponsor can be the difference between being successful and being wildly successful in your career.

Moving forward, challenge yourself to look to your extended network and make a list of potential candidates who could serve as your sponsor. But, don’t stop there; be proactive. Schedule a meeting with each of the people you listed and make your intentions known.

References:

Hewlett, Sylvia A., Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin. “The Relationship You Need To Get Right.” Harvard Business Review Oct. 2011: 131-34. Web. 29 June 2012.

Madell, Robin. “Having a mentor and/or a sponsor can make all the difference in your career.” career-intelligence.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2012.