You’re driving on a fast highway and a car swerves into your lane without any notice. Your reaction might range from a gentle head shake (tsk, tsk) to jamming on the brakes to ending up in a car crash if you don’t have enough time to react. Signaling a lane change is the law on our roads.
Bad things can happen when we don’t signal.
“Signaling” when you are changing lanes in your leadership is up to you. No one will make you pay a fine if you don’t do it. As your coach, though, I might give you a hard time. A case study from The Extraordinary Coach will help me explain.
Andy was a seasoned executive leading a highly profitable division of an insurance company. He and his colleagues went through a 360-degree feedback process to help them improve their overall leadership effectiveness. Andy’s results showed that his direct reports experienced him as a highly autocratic leader, known to belittle people and often rub their nose in their errors.
While this result was a blow to Andy, fortunately, he was willing to work with his coach, Kathleen, and genuinely wanted to improve his leadership effectiveness. Through coaching conversations, Andy and his coach zeroed in on a goal to become a more collaborative leader. To move toward his goal, Andy would focus on:
- Stopping being so autocratic;
- Starting to build more personal relationships with his team; and
- Starting to share more background on his decisions (he had come from a military background).
Andy’s coach Kathleen encouraged him to let his entire team know about both his overall goal and his start and stop behaviours¹. Andy agreed he would. What followed instead was a four-month dance of Kathleen doing her best to hold Andy accountable and Andy coming up with various reasons why he hadn’t shared his goal and change intentions with his team.
At the outset of coaching, Kathleen and Andy had designed that she would interview his direct reports at the six-month mark to assess his progress. Kathleen interviewed every direct report and uncovered some pretty interesting feedback. To Andy’s credit, some people had seen changes in Andy’s behaviour. Sadly, while his direct reports knew he had done a 360-degree profile, they didn’t realize he had taken it seriously and they didn’t know he was working with a coach to improve his leadership.
Here’s what they said:
He’s been a bit more relaxed and distant — he wasn’t hounding me so much…I thought he was probably out looking for another job…
He’s been giving me more freedom to manage my projects, but I think he’s just setting me up for a fail. I have come to him with issues and asked him what his point of view was, and he said, ‘You’re leading this area; I trust you to make good decisions.’ I’m sure he is just letting me take the rope—get far enough out, and then just hang myself.
He’s been acting strange…talking about his personal life more and asking me about mine. I actually wondered if he had cancer.
So Andy was working diligently to change his autocratic approach and his team members assumed he was checked out, looking for another job, setting people up to fail, or dying of cancer!
The alternative is to signal people so they can more easily recognize changes, provide reinforcing feedback and feel encouraged to give direct course corrections when their leader falls down. This approach can be vulnerability AND it is the best way to accelerate development and lead by example.
Well-known coaching expert Marshall Goldsmith and partner Howard Morgan researched this very topic of signaling a lane change in leadership. Bottom-line findings: Leaders who discussed their priorities with their co-workers and did regular follow-up showed striking improvement. Those who didn’t have ongoing dialogue barely exceeded random chance when rated on their improvements. Read more in Leadership is a Contact Sport.
Will you choose to drive in the fast lane and leave your team to wonder when you will zig or zag? Or will you welcome them into your trusted circle of advisors and let them help you grow as a person and a leader? You know how I feel.
¹ When I work with clients, I have them identify an Accountability Circle—a group of five to eight people they trust will give them honest feedback. We sometimes formalize the feedback process by using little mini surveys called Pulse™ Surveys.
P.S. Our concert, Jill Chandler at the Ballroom Barn, was a great night. My sister, Jill, put on a great show. My dance partner, Rejean, and I practiced our mambo in front of a very supportive crowd. Thank you! We raised close to $2000 for Hospice PEI on concert night. If you didn’t make it, please cast your votes now ($1/vote) for Dancing with the Stars. You have until Oct 22nd to support me in my fundraising efforts for the important work of Hospice PEI.