A Career in Danger

Jim knew marketing like nobody’s business. Not only did he have a natural flair, he worked hard to master his craft. Promotions followed achievements like night follows day. The promotion that nearly did him in was when he got a staff to supervise. His company made a classic mistake, i.e., believing that because Jim was technically skilled he must be competent to supervise others in his area. Sadly for Jim, the skills required to create killer marketing programs are not the skills required to elicit creativity, cooperation, and dedication from others.

Jim had never had a leadership position. With no training to guide him, he did what came naturally. For him that was to use a pacesetter style, an unfortunate choice. Pacesetters demand that everyone perform at the leader’s level. Failure to do so earns scathing criticism, with tasks often taken over by the leader. This style is often adopted out of a fear of criticism. Given that Jim knew that he did not know how to lead, such fear was understandable.

Before long, two of his key people resigned. Both exit interviews had similar content: “I can’t work for Jim. His way of criticizing is demeaning, and he keeps all of us uptight.” Both people had liked Jim before he became their boss and still respected his marketing talent. Hal, the Executive Vice-President, convinced both people to give the company and Jim some time to solve the problem.

Not looking forward to it, Hal met with Jim. He spoke with kindness and candor: “Jim, these two resignations signal a real problem. We believe in you and want to do everything we can to make this situation successful.” Jim was actually relieved to have this conversation. He surprised Hal, who had expected defensiveness, when he quickly agreed to change. The problem was that he did not know how to change. He knew what not to do. It was knowing what to do that eluded him.

To solve that problem, Hal found Jim a coach who helps executives develop missing skills. As Jim learned about coaching and how it works, he became more comfortable with the process. Coaching works like any other successful project:

  • create a vision of success

  • assess where you are now

  • create a plan to get from now to the vision

  • execute the plan and assess results

Vision: Hal, Jim and the coach set their vision of success together. Jim would develop a leadership style that suited his personality and created a climate among his staff that brought out their best efforts.

Assessment: Assessments are done differently, depending on the situation. In Jim’s case:

  • The coach talked with Jim to measure Jim’s motivation and their ability to work together.

  • They got Hal’s views on specific issues and needed changes.

  • Jim took the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) which measures the skills that form the bedrock of leadership.

  • The coach spent a day with Jim at work, i.e., to attend meetings, watch interactions, and talk with some of the staff.

At first, Jim felt uncomfortable to have his coach spend the day at the office: “Everyone will know!” Then it dawned on him. Everyone already knew that Jim was having trouble. Jim realized that he had the choice of whether or not to be embarrassed. He opted not to feel ashamed of having a coach. (“If Tiger Woods can have a coach, I guess it’s not so bad.”) He told his staff: “This is my coach. He is helping me learn how to be a good leader. I want you to speak candidly to him about me. He will tell me what gets said but not who says it. With your help, I will become the leader this department needs.”

Plan: Research shows that senior managers do best when they are strong in the skills of self-regard, happiness, interpersonal relationships, reality testing (not letting emotions overwhelm how you read a situation), and self-actualization. The assessment showed that Jim was weak in self-regard and interpersonal relationships. Therefore, he and his coach worked to develop those two skills.

Execution: Jim’s parents had used a lot of criticism. Naturally, Jim learned to talk to himself in the same critical way. He carried that habit into adulthood. On a daily basis, he undermined his own self-regard. His coach helped him see the pattern and then taught him that he had choices about what he said to himself in the privacy of his own mind. The coach created exercises for Jim to learn how to talk with himself in a more constructive way.

It was hard for Jim to overcome what he had learned as a child, but with practice, he got results. One result, surprisingly, was that Jim needed fewer hours to do the technical side of his job. His excessive self-criticism had led him to nitpick details unproductively. His new, positive comments allowed him to skip useless rechecking and focus more on creative development, his true forte.

A second result was that because he was less self-critical, he was less critical of others, which improved his relationships. His coach also helped him learn how to listen to his staff more carefully. He found that his staff was more skilled than he had realized. He began to enjoy having staff meetings to brainstorm projects. The staff responded well to Jim’s interest and respect. The department’s performance grew with the improved climate.

Jim’s progress was not smooth. Jim slipped sometimes and went back to his old ways. His coach helped him know that these were just slips, not a wholesale deterioration. He helped Jim put the slips behind him and return to his new behaviors, which, eventually, became his default style.

Note: This story is fiction designed to give the reader a peek into the coaching experience.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., which helps individuals and companies reach their true potential. He can be reached 774-1927, or by e-mail at dana.ackley@eqleader.net.

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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