Dan waited for Carla in the conference room. She arrived carrying a notebook and a thermos of coffee.
“Hi, Dan,” said Carla, taking a seat next to him. She wore cotton slacks, a golf shirt, and leather running shoes to this and almost any meeting. People said she carried her weight well, but Dan thought that missed the point. He’d seen her on the tennis court. With her stocky frame, she managed to cover the court efficiently, and she moved like a cat at the net. But it was her serve that demonstrated how much power she could unleash.
“Hi, Carla,” he said, turning toward her.
Dan thanked her for having taken the time to give feedback to Michele. He told her about the significant themes from the feedback and asked for her comments.
“Dan, we’ve known each other for a long time. You don’t have to be so formal with me. Why don’t you just tell me what you want to work on, and we’ll talk?”
“Sounds good, Carla.” He pulled the chart from a folder, handed it to her and said, “These are the five key behaviors that I’m working on.”
Reading aloud, she said,
Context: in meetings with senior executives, where Dan’s direct reports are presenting data…
Dan…A: (Old Behavior) interrupts his report and takes over the presentation. Result: The direct report feels publicly humiliated in front of his or her superiors, unmotivated to make future presentations, and perceives the working environment as oppressive.
Or, B: (New Behavior) Dan allows his direct report to present the data and handle all follow-up questions. Dan only comments if his direct report truly needs help and in that case he is both supportive and honest.”
“I’ll take B any day,” said Carla. “I know Peter would, too.”
“That’s what I’m shooting for.”
“This sounds good on paper, here in our private, calm conversation. We’ve had a lot of beers at Dempsey’s a few days after you’ve blown it. You were nice and rational then. Do you think you can pull it off when you’re in a critical meeting and you see data that is wrong or a slide that makes you want to scream?”
“That’s the only time it counts,” he said.
“You know that one about why you shouldn’t try to teach a pig to sing?”
“I have a feeling I’m going to hear it.”
“Well, that’s why I’m working with Michele. She makes her living teaching pigs to sing. Carla, take another look at the chart and see what else pertains to you.”
Carla began reading. At first, she skimmed. Then, she slowed down and mouthed the words as she read.
“I like this one,” she said.
In meetings with his staff, Dan adopts the following leadership style…
A: (Old Behavior) listens to status reports, one at a time, processes the data, and tells each individual staff member how to proceed
B: (New Behavior) Dan states the frame and the rationale for the meeting. When appropriate, he helps team members understand the project more broadly, beyond their own contributions and concerns. He encourages the group to collectively look at their interdependencies and how they might help each other. He invites the team to brainstorm and build on each other’s ideas. Dan encourages the contributions of others before he states his own opinions. As much as possible, he relies on the emerging wisdom of the team. If he needs to make a decision contrary to their ideas, he says so and gives the rationale. He may be open to discussion on these decisions. In this way, he builds the team’s capacity to function at a higher level of autonomy and develops team members into future leaders.
“Now, that’s good,” said Carla. “That would make my life much better.”
“According to Michele, it would make everyone’s life better, including mine. How would it affect you?”
“I see things that you don’t, Dan. I could’ve told you that the milestones you set for this project were way too aggressive. You over-promised and we, predictably, under-delivered. We ended up feeling oppressed by unreachable goals. I tried to say something about the deadlines, but you brushed it aside.”
“I know, I remember that.”
“If you’d engaged us in the decision making we would have had more realistic goals and we would have been more committed to them.”
“Yes, that would have saved us a lot of grief. Let’s see if we can operate,in the new way going forward.”
“Dan, I feel like you’re sincere in wanting to change, but even if you pull it off, it may take a little while before people come out of their defensive crouches.”
“I’m planning to have a two-day off site meeting where we redesign how our team functions. Hopefully, that will help us all reset.”
“We could use a reset right about now. By the way, I think Peter could use some TLC. He’s not a happy camper.”
“Is there anything specific I should know?”
“Nothing that you can’t get from talking with him directly. But if you want to keep him, a little appreciation from you will go a long way.”
“One more thing. Whatever you and Michele are doing, in spite of what I said before, I see a difference.”
“As the lead singing pig, I appreciate that.”
How is Dan progressing? Do you think he can change? Let us know in the comments.
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Dragons at Work
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