Dan arrived early for his one-on-one meeting with Peter and sat alone in the conference room. Something about Peter made Dan want to grab him by the shoulders and rattle him awake. Was it that Peter presented data with no regard for his audience’s reaction? Or, that when nervous, he incessantly clicked his pen? Or that he searched awkwardly for words? These crimes hardly deserved the punishment Dan meted out. Reliving one of Peter’s stumbled presentations, Dan felt as though he wanted to discipline an incorrigible child.
He breathed into the tightness in his shoulders and chest and dissolved some of it, but the tension of wanting Peter to perform well remained. When Peter fumbled, Dan looked incompetent, and it jeopardized both their jobs. He could be fired. As he acknowledged this fear his lower back tightened. Dan breathed into his back until the tension eased. He was surprised at how much he had riding on Peter’s presentations.
Now his thoughts turned to what he truly appreciated about Peter. Peter could see patterns in data that other people missed. Dan sometimes marveled at Peter’s insights, and he never acknowledged him for it. Dan wondered: Would he like to work for a boss who consistently badgered him and withheld praise?
“Hi, Dan,” said Peter, sitting down opposite him.
Dan saw how Peter, in micro movements, displayed his discomfort. He’s like a whipped dog, he thought. This is what my old behaviors produce.
After some awkward pleasantries, Dan took a breath and said, “Peter, I owe you an apology.”
Peter looked at Dan, his expression unchanged.
“It can’t be fun for you to work for me. I ride you mercilessly about small mistakes in your presentations…”
Peter nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“…you work incredible hours…”
Peter nodded again, more noticeably.
“…and I never tell you how much I admire your talent for seeing patterns in data. If I were you I would’ve quit long ago. I’m sorry, Peter.”
“Actually, Dan, I came today to tell you that I’m quitting.”
“Is it because of what it’s been like working for me?”
“Partially,” said Peter.
“What else is it?”
After a moment, Dan said, “Peter, there is a human side to this enterprise, and I’ve been blocking it at every turn. I’m sorry it’s come to this.”
Peter was silent.
“The team is going to miss you.”
“After they pass through the stages of grief, they’ll get on with life. Five minutes should suffice,” said Peter.
Dan smiled. “I want you to know that you can use me as a positive reference. If I can help in any way with your transition, I will.”
“Peter, I’d like to hear what it’s been like for you to work here, for me – as a kind of exit interview. Could we use this time to do that?”
Peter told him it had been hell. Fretting for hours over which slides to include in one of Dan’s presentations ruined his weekends. He rehearsed these presentations, only to have Dan remove many slides and demand replacements. Dan would ask for more data and then never use it. “A thankless job,” barely described it. This came out haltingly, but after forty-five minutes it was all on the table.
“Take a look at this,” said Dan, handing his behavior chart to Peter. “Michele and I prepared this chart from the 360 feedback interviews. I think you might find the second one particularly interesting.”
Peter read aloud:
“In helping his team prepare their presentations for senior executives Dan: A) (Old Behavior) Demands last minute changes in slides, often asking for hours’ worth of work that is seldom used. B) (New Behavior) Dan gives clear direction about what response he wants the presentation to evoke in the audience. He acknowledges what is good and offers constructive suggestions on what needs improvement. Then he trusts his subordinates to create the final version. In that way, they own the presentation, accept its success, and learn from their mistakes. If Dan thinks they’re making serious errors, he does not withhold his opinion.”
Peter handed the chart back to Dan. “That would work. When do we get to meet the guy who does Behavior B?”
“Peter, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback in the past three weeks. It’s been hard to hear, but it’s finally seeping in. Michele has helped me see that teams whose members collaborate and learn from each other perform best. I’m committed to our building that kind of team. I’m sorry that you won’t be here to help us create it.”
“Dan, this is a little late for me. I’m burned out.”
“How about this, Peter? Take the weekend and next Monday off. Get some rest. In two weeks, we’ll have a two-day off site meeting for the whole team to design how we want to operate. Could you work another couple of weeks and then come to the offsite? Then you’ll have direct experience of how successful we are at recreating ourselves. If you decide you want to remain part of the team, I’d be happy to have you stay. If you still want to leave, I’ll understand. My offer to help with your transition stands. How does that sound?”
“I don’t know, Dan. Let me sleep on it. I’ll let you know Tuesday.”
“Peter, thank you for speaking your mind today.”
“You’re welcome,” said Peter. “Thanks for listening.”
Have you ever asked for and received harsh feedback about your leadership style? What did you do? Please leave comment.
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