What the New Boss Did

My client (let’s call him Tom) and I had been working together for about 18 months when he was asked to take over the leadership of a department numbering about 800 associates. This department had earned a reputation as being “the place where they send projects to die.” As a result, the previous leader had been fired, and Tom was asked to take over.

When Tom met with the Senior Leadership “Team” (N = 7) of his new department, he was not received with open arms. Right or wrong, these seven people had loved their previous boss, and were worried about what the “new broom” might have in mind. Their track record gave them good reason to worry. Fortunately, as you will see, rather than losing their jobs, the seven enjoyed success that, initially, they couldn’t see coming.

Tom found the seven members of the group (while they were called a Senior Leadership Team, or SLT, they had never become an actual team) to be undisciplined in their approach to their work, and resentful of the ouster of their former leader. To say that they were unhappy with Tom at the outset understates the situation.

Tom had some ideas about what needed to be done, and began to implement better work processes as a start. For example, he set up weekly meetings with each of his senior leaders. He told them that he expected them to come to those meetings with an agenda. When someone showed up without an agenda, Tom ended the meeting immediately. Before long, people began to come with agendas.

This approach took courage on Tom’s part. Though a man with immense intellect, talent, and mastery of his field, he was also a human being with feelings. Despite the emotional distress of the SLT’s initial thinly veiled rejection of his leadership, Tom stuck to his guns and made progress.

But he knew that he needed to do more. He asked me to work with him and the SLT to turn the group into a real team.

What did our work accomplish?

When we started, surveys showed that the emotions that were prominent among the 800 employees of Tom’s department, led by the old dysfunctional SLT, were anger, cynicism, distress, and mistrust. Eight months after the team building process, surveys showed that the prominent feelings were now enjoyment, hope, trust, and confidence. And the department gained a reputation for effectiveness.

Here’s what we did:

Step One: I met with Tom and the members of his SLT to get acquainted and orient them to the team building process. I introduced two topics that would inform our work: (1) emotional intelligence and (2) the skills of a high performance team.

Step Two: I interviewed each of the SLT members individually. First, I asked each of them a series of questions about the group, focusing on the extent to which they perceived themselves and the members of the group to be engaged in high performance team behaviors. During the same meeting, I did a leadership-skills oriented interview, the questions for which can be found in The EQ Leader Program 2. 0 manual.  I asked each SLT member to complete the Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 (MHS’s EQ-i 2.0.)

Step Three: With regard to the leadership skills assessment, I wrote personalized reports for each of the SLT members, integrating their leadership interview responses with their results on the EQ-i 2.0. (See The EQ Leader Program 2.0 manual for a sample report and boilerplate material.) In these reports, I emphasized (a) the implications of their scores for their own leadership development, i.e., something that would provide them value not only for their current assignment but also for assignments throughout their career, (b) how their current EQ development would be likely to impact their ability to engage in high performance team behaviors, and (c) development recommendations, including EQ development exercises (see The EQ Leader Program2.0 manual for menus of exercises for each of the sixteen EQ skills measured by the EQ-i 2.0).

Step Four: I met with the SLT members privately to debrief them on their leadership/EQ assessments, after they had had a chance to read both the MHS computer generated report of their scores on the EQ-i 2.0 and my personalized report.

Step Five: I prepared a report on team strengths and weaknesses based on the interviews that I had done in Step Two. The report helped the team members recognize what they were doing well and where they could improve. I met with Tom to review the report before sharing it with the others, because leaders in these situations are always more vulnerable than anyone else. However, I did not permit changes to be made to the report. It was then released to the other members of the SLT.

Step Six: The group and I went on a 1.5 day offsite. Using the group report I had prepared as an agenda,  I facilitated a discussion about how the group could integrate lessons learned from what they had shared with me in their interviews into their future behavior, and did exercises designed to build team skills. The discussion resulted in the development of action items with deadlines and metrics, and eventually, along with the exercises, to the metamorphosis of the group into a high performance SLT.

Tom and his team get the credit for their outstanding implementation of the process outlined above. Their 800 workers enjoyed the fruits of this work, because now they were able to get what they needed from their leaders in order to be successful.

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