This phase of leadership development is perhaps the most challenging for a mentor. This is where a lot remains left on the table and where too many people get stuck.The Pizza and Spaghetti phase represents a hungry team lead or supervisor on a significant growth track but this person still has a huge lesson to learn. That lesson is how to properly use authority. Leaders in this phase are lost between trying to still be friends with their teammates and trying to being overly authoritative. Sometimes this is subtle, but none the less, it is a wall to climb and a mentor is needed here perhaps more than ever.
After ordering a large pizza the other night, my 15 year old says, ”Where’s yours?” In his mind pizza represents all the major food groups and is therefore healthy and since it is healthy it should be eaten in large quantities. The food group part is arguable at best but healthy is definitely out. Not only is he eating a lot, his food choices have become limited. Way too much pizza these days and his other choice is spaghetti. The meat and sauce imply nutrition to him and he consumes it in large quantities. This is a good analogy for where the budding leader is in this phase. They are first of all hungry, which in and of itself is good. The challenge with being very hungry is that you tend to eat whatever is in front of you whether its good or bad. Being hungry for knowledge is good but a lack of well rounded knowledge limits growth. After a pizza feast, my son can be found on the couch, somewhat lethargic. Even though he is full, he is not satisfied and can be grumpy. It doesn’t seem to add up to him, unless a mentor, his father in this case, steps in and carefully points out some potential missteps in his decisions. Leaders can get this way too. Some get so bogged down in knowledge of a specific regulation, they lose the ability to see the bigger picture and end up not being able to keep the ball moving forward. Knowledge is necessary, but not all at once. Without allowing proper breaks and time for some understanding to set in, this self consumed knowledge could lead to ineffectiveness.
The other important dynamic here is relationships. In the US Navy, this phase would be represented by a First Class Petty Officer transitioning to a Chief Petty Officer. This is the highest group ranking for enlisted personnel in the Navy. There is a very onerous and carefully planned indoctrination period a petty officer goes through before they can become a chief. Other chiefs gather around these chief-selects and quickly bring them up to speed on the new world they are entering in to. This was hard for me when the First Class Petty Officer in my division made the transition. We were still friends afterwards, but it was clearly different. If he had not changed, he would have actually lost some respect. He was learning how to properly yield authority without being either overbearing or too friendly. It is at this impasse a great ceiling exists that unfortunately some people can not break through. The Navy understands this and assigns mentors to help with this specific challenge. The leader here will go between being overly authoritative and losing respect or will try to remain one of the guys and never gain the respect. Mentorship is desperately needed here and is required to help break through this critical phase.
One of the very bright spots in this phase is the revelation of “Us.” While still inwardly focused, the mindset begins to shift to think about “us” and not just “me”. “Me” is included in “us” but there is a deeper meaning and a greater call. The leader starts to see the chess pieces that make up an organization and how carefully each one must be placed. How one can help the other by being positioned correctly. The paycheck is still very important, but not just his, the companies as well.
IF YOU ARE IN THIS PHASE: You may get frustrated at times, the key here is to have an open ear. Listening is more important here than ever. Prior to this phase finding a mentor was a nice suggestion, but in order to get past this phase, you must get a mentor and be willing to trust them and listen to their counsel. Might you lose some friends in this phase? Maybe, but it does not have to be so. In this phase, as in phases to come, you will have to dig deep and really find out why you are doing what you are doing and what is really driving you. More money and greater roles do not get you past this phase. There are CEO’s making lots of dollars that find themselves in this phase. This journey is not about greater income; it is about growing as an individual and as a leader.
IF YOU ARE LEADING SOMEONE THROUGH THIS PHASE: Be very sensitive to where they are and try not to come down too hard on them. The biggest thing they need to learn here is how they are perceived. Statements like, “There may be a better way to handle that,” or questions like, “If you had that situation again what might you do different” can really open up great coaching opportunities. Sharing your personal stories of how you still have friends in your life from when you went through this phase can be very impactful at this point. As a seasoned leader, this phase is a great opportunity for you to shape and mold budding leaders. You can help prepare them for what is coming. Take advantage of the opportunity to the fullest, it will benefit you personally and help set your organization up for sustained growth.