With her company’s earnings down three quarters in a row, my client, the marketing VP of a big data company, concluded that her company had to shift from a product orientation to a solutions orientation.
She was an excellent collaborator, but that ability wasn’t enough to influence an entire senior team to completely redirect the company’s marketing strategy. She’d have to wear the hat of an evangelist, power up her influence skills and increase her assertiveness. Working together, we surfaced an old belief about playing nice and replaced it with a powerful “We Play To Win” attitude and mindset. Through coaching, she learned and applied influence tools for exerting change at an enterprise level and implemented a deliberate plan and pitch for enrolling key stakeholder support. As a result, she was able to influence the senior team and company to adopt a solutions approach which ultimately brought the company back into positive earnings.
My client, a VP in a large civil engineering firm, received feedback through our 360-interview process that he didn’t listen well and had a hard time deviating from his agenda during interactions. He tended to drive conversations and shut people down, unaware that he was blocking input, feedback or dialog. He thought he was applying leadership skills by directing and asserting – a stereotypical mindset most people have of leadership.
I helped him understand the costs of dominating dialog and the powerful benefits of observing and listening, which gave him access and insight into the secret treasure trove of where the most critical information is (always) held. Once he understood this, he immediately made active listening his top goal. He not only learned to listen with his ears, but also with his eyes and body, reading subtle cues and clues in facial expressions, vocal tone and body language. This enabled him to inquire about what he observed and draw out important information while creating more personal and productive relationships overall.
In the third month of coaching, my client was leading a meeting with a prior client, hoping to win their business again. Ten minutes into the meeting, my client noticed a subtle look of frustration on his customer’s face. He paused his agenda and asked about the expression, “Mike, I think I see a look of frustration on your face. What’s going on?” The customer vented his concern, expressing a frustration that was still lurking around from a prior project with my client’s company. Abandoning his agenda, my client engaged the customer in a dialog about the problem and then collaborated on a solution. Ten minutes before the end of the meeting, my client offered to set up a new time to complete the original presentation and Q & A. The customer interrupted him and exclaimed, “No, not needed! We just solved the very thing I’m most concerned about in working with your company. You got the contract.” It was a $500M contract.
Sometimes the coaching work I do is about instilling confidence in a leader who’s been rocked by a crushing blow, or feels out of their league in their new role, or simply feels intimidated by the senior people above them – more common than most people think. Sometimes confidence is produced by data – having the right data at the right time. The next 3 stories (Susan, Suraj and Anders) illustrate the power of increasing and polishing confidence.
Susan had received “exceeds expectations” for over 10 years, gotten one promotion after another, and whose main project was suddenly outdated by a major technology breakthrough. Her contribution towards revenue plummeted as well as the company’s value and her confidence and world were badly shaken. Her self-esteem plunged because it was tangled up with an external identity of herself – who she worked for and the success of her projects – rather than a strong set of internal values and a bedrock of core self-worth.
Fortunately, we were working together when this blow occurred. I was able to help Susan replace her externalized perception of her value with a solid set internal core values and a clear understanding of her strengths. She had to learn to reframe adversity so we surfaced an old conditioned belief about success and replaced it with a more useful belief that grounded her thinking, focus and action.
I energized her confidence and actions by asking her to create a unique Call-To-Action mission statement – one that electrified her focus. Her Call-To-Action was: “What’s Mine To Give”, a custom mission statement somatically designed to channel her being and doing in every action and interaction. By the end of 6 months her confidence radiated out of her body, her composure was calm, inspiring, focused, and – she had resurrected the company into a new line of business.
This is the story of Suraj whose company was acquired by a huge data company. In his new VP role with the acquiring company, Suraj’s organization grew from 20 to 150. Suraj’s challenges were multiple: handle increased scale and scope, expand his influence skills, delegate fiercely while guiding growth and resolve direct report in-fighting. While in the middle of a divorce.
Suraj’s confidence was intact but he simply didn’t have certain skills – it’s hard to step boldly into action when you lack the tools, especially in a large parent company that has established political norms. When I conducted Suraj’s 360, I specifically asked about culture, values and what it takes to be successful in the organization while garnering perceptual feedback on Suraj’s leadership and impact.
I asked Suraj if he’d taken the time to build relationships with his peers and if he’d created an influence stakeholder map. I also asked if he’d interviewed his leadership downlines to get a sense of capability and assess trust. Overall, he’d built some relationships but not in a disciplined way so we created a key influencer map and “a reason to call” for each influencer over a period of 3 months. Additionally, he set out to interview his leadership downline; a series of interviews that allowed him to assess both capability and weak links in his organization while enrolling his leaders into a seismic vision that would generate the company’s newest and largest revenue source.
I added “Asks” to his influence toolkit; my claim is that if you aren’t ready with a request when you walk through the door (any door, any time), you miss a thousand opportunities and forsake creating the critical golden bond that glues action and commitment together (the Ask) which produces results. You cannot forward the action unless you make the Ask.
We also tackled relationship issues inside his team. Suraj’s coaching skills were fairly first-rate, so we role-played the conversations to nail down his coaching approach, objectives, questions and assertions. We honed his facilitation, tone and pacing until we knew he could produce ownership, action and accountability from the two reports that couldn’t get along.
By the sixth month of coaching Suraj’s team had tripled and his organization was producing the main stream of revenue at a record pace and volume. His relationship network included key influencers and he became accomplished at influencing the naysayers. By honing his coaching skills, which also improved his internal consulting skills, he was able to delegate and scale, bringing out the best in his leaders and create a very high performing, highly motivated leadership team.
Knowledge is power – data is power. Sometimes all you need to summit the mountain is the right information. This is the story of Anders, who was the CEO of a Credit Union. When I interviewed his senior staff, I learned that individually and as a team, they were yearning for a BHAG – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, and that one of Anders weaknesses was holding people accountable.
He also had his eyes on a BHAG but he’d just directed them through an enormous successful challenge the year before and felt they weren’t quite ready for the next. Until he heard the 360-feedback informing him about their readiness and his accountability.
A very personable leader, he grinned and acknowledged his weakness at crucial conversations and accountability. “What’s the BHAG then?” I asked. Without missing a beat, he said “Tripling membership.” Eyes gleaming, fingers tapping, he added, “And I will hold them to it”. That’s when I rolled up my shirtsleeves and said, “How?”
Crucial conversations are the single biggest weakness of most leaders. These conversations come in all sizes, shapes and tones, but they’re the lynchpin to being a trusted authentic leader and the ability to rectify the myriad of misunderstandings, non-alignments, perceptual differences and personality clashes that get tangled up in moving goals forward. If you don’t know how to have a crucial conversation that preserves dignity yet produces results, you will struggle as a leader.
Anders wanted to inspire people into their accountability, so he avoided calling out the breakdowns and instead “pitched” his directs towards better. Sounds good but unfortunately humans always round up when it comes to their actions – until we face the music of where we broke a commitment, missed a deadline, said this but meant that – we believe we’re doing just fine.
Anders started keeping a log of actions of each of his directs. In a little black book next to his laptop. The log idea was mine, the black book was his. The symbol of the book was not about his directs, it was about enforcing a discipline and mindset into his thinking. The practice we designed was that he HAD to look at the book before every meeting, have a conversation about prior actions committed to, and follow up and update the book with information and dates after every meeting. He had to report to me each week on the conversations he had. Which was fun for both of us because he was reporting on one win after another.
I drilled him in Crucial Conversation techniques and added my own. We role played real conversations with the techniques so that he created new neural pathways, allowing the practice and learning to become embodied. With this type of practice, a person will succeed because they have an embodied experience to call forth, rely and embellish on. Without this practice, it’s virtually impossible to succeed because the “cold start” produces fear, allowing the voices of anxiety to triumph – those internal voices inside us that tell us we want to be liked, to avoid appear stupid, and definitely not weak. When we listen to those voices – because we don’t have any other tools or practice – we succumb and avoid the conversation that we most need to hold.
Anders’ team met their goal – they tripled membership. Along the way they got challenged, dared and held accountable. Anders embellished the Crucial Conversation techniques so that his directs were pitching him on how they would change for better or make the “it” happen. An example of a perfect client generated coaching enhancement. Where are they now? The team had so much fun they’re ready for their next BHAG.