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Blame or Shift?

Recently a friend texted for advice about a “hard client he was working with” (his words). He indicated he thought she needed some tough love. He asked me to tell him how to do that. I agreed to have a conversation to explore his situation.  

He told me that he had spent three hours the night before crafting an email with his proposed solutions to the client’s business issues.

He wanted me to read it but didn’t feel hopeful she would heed his advice. I asked if we could talk about the bigger picture instead of the content of his email.

He’s familiar with the above/ below the line framework from the Conscious Leadership Group (worth 3 min if you have not watched it). I asked him a few times where he felt he was vis-à-vis the line. Each time he said he was above the line because he was trying to help the client.

I asked if I could offer my feedback. He was game.  I offered that I was experiencing him as being very below the line in that moment. I drew the drama triangle and described the various drama roles of hero, victim and villain (Another worthwhile 3 min).  

I asked again if he could recognize himself in any of those roles. This was the TSN Turning Point.

He could recognize himself in all three roles: hero, victim and villain.

He had arrived feeling that everything was her fault.  She had become a “hard client who needed tough love”. When he broke it down he could see he was being a hero by working outside the scope of their agreement to “save her” (and resenting every minute of it). He was feeling like a victim because she was “irrational and undermining the process”. And he was making her a villain for not doing what she needed to do to grow her business.”

Here’s the thing: The client may not have had a clue my friend was experiencing her this way. Since he was concealing his feelings and working hard to overcome the “problem”, the drama was on his side (She may have been feeling some drama too but I did not speak to her ☺).

When my friend could shift to owning his contribution to what was going on between them, he was able to see he had some choices.  

I challenged him to have a clearing conversation with her.¹ To own his feelings. To tell her the facts (that she had taken 2 weeks reply to his emails and a few other unarguable facts) and the stories he was making up about her. And to make it clear that he wanted a more honest relationship with her if they were to continue working together as consultant and client.

My friend is a brave soul and a life-long learner. He willingly agreed to have the conversation.

Two days later he sent me this note:

“What happened was unbelievable. We agreed on all kinds of things.  No one was defensive. I thought I was going to have to resign from this client. Instead, we have more trust than we had before and we have a path forward”.

We all have drama in our lives.  Becoming more aware of when we are in drama and realizing we have choices is a huge victory.  

Having courageous conversations to shift out of drama is icing on the cake. I am proud of my friend.  He shifted. You can too.

 


¹ If you’d like a one-page step-by-step script on how to have a clearing conversation, please email me.

You’ve just hired Selma as your new controller. She has lunch in the staff room on Day 1 to quickly to get to know her new colleagues. She tells one of them that she’s excited to have found a company that develops and promotes their people. After all, she’s been told that by every leader who interviewed her so she believes it. In fact, it is what sold her on joining your company. Her new colleague George says, “Maybe that will be the case for you.  What I see is that they hire experts from the outside for every leadership position that comes up. You’re a case in point, in fact.”

This is how culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is simply “the way we do things around here”—the way people think and act.  

Every company has a culture that works for them or against them.

In the story above, the leaders say they value developing internal talent. It’s written as one of their core values/ beliefs in the strategic plan and in the new employee handbook.  Last year, the CEO presented an employee engagement strategy telling staff that developing home grown talent is a cornerstone of their plan.  Sadly, in the speed of their frenzied business, the CEO and her team often contradict this belief. And while the senior team are slow to see the disconnect, their employees are quick to point out the contradiction. They even teach new employees on Day 1 how things really get done around here.

Companies are perfectly designed to get exactly the results they are getting.

When we look at a company through the lens of the culture change pyramid (the central concept of Change the Culture, Change the Game) we start to understand how much culture creates or hinders results.

This is how culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is simply “the way we do things around here”—the way people think and act. | Chandler CoachesFrom the bottom up, we can see that:

Experiences drive Beliefs: “They say we believe is developing home grown talent but my experience is that they usually hire experts from the outside. Now I believe that we value experts over our own people.”

Beliefs drive Actions: I believe they will keep hiring externally so I am not going to push myself; I will be passed over for promotion anyway. I will do what’s necessary but not more. I’ll get a higher level job at a new company as soon as I get another year of experience here.”

Actions drive Results: “We missed our quarterly targets again. My boss is really stressed and he’s putting pressure on all of us. I don’t see how we’re going to turn things around. I am going to have to leave for sure…maybe earlier than I thought.”

A culture of accountability, combined with clear vision (the results we want), strategy (the actions we’ll take) and effective leadership (how we’ll walk the talk) are essential components to achieve big results.

“Either you manage culture or it manages you.”

 – Connors and Smith, Change the Culture, Change the Game

 

The choice is yours.

 

 


¹Peter Drucker, “father of modern management”, said it first. Mark Fields, recent CEO at Ford Motor Company, made it famous.

Imagine a workplace where all leaders respect their people, provide clear and consistent expectations, and encourage employees to be independent, intrinsically motivated critical thinkers. Such a workplace would look a lot like a Montessori school in fact.

I read this post on the 7 phrases Montessori teachers use because my daughter goes to a Montessori afterschool program. Right away my brain shifted from education to corporate leadership.

I wondered how these Montessori questions would work in a company instead of a school?

Extremely well is what I conclude.

I find it delightful that the philosophies of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and visionary of the early 1900s, are applicable in the 2017 corporate world.

Here’s how Montessori phrases (modified slightly for the world of work) can improve your leadership:

“I saw you working hard”.

Instead of saying “Good job”, we’d say “I noticed how strategic you were about choosing words that would speak to our team on the shop floor”. Instead of a pat on the back, our employees get specific feedback about the behaviours and outcomes we value.

“What do you think about your work?”

When an employee asks what we think of their work, they might be seeking our approval of them. Instead of encouraging them to outsource their approval to us, we’d ask curious questions to encourage them to self-reflect and share what they really think before we weigh in.

“Where could you look for that?”

I have seen leaders self-congratulate for solving an employee’s problem on the spot. This can be the right response in a crisis. Most times, it’s a habit: both learned helplessness by the employee and the leader’s need to feel worthwhile by being smart or in charge. Encouraging the employee to tap into their own resourcefulness can pay dividends in their growth. It can reduce future requests on us too.

“Which part would you like my help with?”

Less effective leaders are unconscious and often in a rush. They forget to slow down and ask questions. Effective leaders find out what will help an employee get through their problem while consciously resisting the urge to be the hero, a role that isn’t sustainable.

“In our company, we…”

This little phrase reminds the team of company rules and desired behaviours. “In our company, we tell our colleagues directly when we are frustrated with something they’ve done. We avoid gossiping to other people and creating drama.” The experiences your team has at your company drive their beliefs about how things get done, the actions they take and ultimately the results they achieve. The most effective leaders intentionally create and manage the company culture instead of being managed by it¹.

“Don’t disturb him; he’s concentrating.”

Most of us do our best thinking when we have a block of time to accomplish an important task. Reactive leaders interrupt their team with their own urgent needs and they don’t protect their team from outside distractions. Strong leaders clarify priorities and protect their time and their employees’ time and concentration to focus on what matters.

“Follow the employee.”

“Following your employee” means remembering that each person is unique with his/her own individual needs, passions and gifts. The most effective leaders observe their people and test their assumptions so they can work with their people instead of against them.

How about sharpening your leadership pencil the Montessori way?

 

 


¹ The idea of company experiences driving beliefs, actions and results comes from Change the Culture, Change the Game by Rogers Connors and Tom Smith.

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Blame or Shift?

Recently a friend texted for advice about a “hard client he was working with” (his words). He indicated he thought she needed some tough love. He asked me to tell him how to do that. I agreed to have a conversation to explore his situation.   He wanted me to read it but didn’t feel… Read the full post here

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast…¹

You’ve just hired Selma as your new controller. She has lunch in the staff room on Day 1 to quickly to get to know her new colleagues. She tells one of them that she’s excited to have found a company that develops and promotes their people. After all, she’s been told that by every leader… Read the full post here

Lead Like a Montessori Teacher

Imagine a workplace where all leaders respect their people, provide clear and consistent expectations, and encourage employees to be independent, intrinsically motivated critical thinkers. Such a workplace would look a lot like a Montessori school in fact. I read this post on the 7 phrases Montessori teachers use because my daughter goes to a Montessori… Read the full post here

The Promise of Leadership

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