I met with someone a while ago to determine whether he wanted coaching, and for him to eyeball me. He came out swinging. A Hobson’s Choice in a way, as his boss had instructed that we meet. A senior exec with a regional role, many years work experience and quite knowledgeable in his business, here’s the gist of that conversation:
-I am actually not happy with my boss, to be perfectly honest. My wife actually said she thinks he’s holding me back. I agree. I should be empowered more than I am.
-Holding you back how?
-He’s critical of the way I work, and I don’t happen to agree.
-Which is why we’re here now, no?
-He said I’m arrogant. Do I look as though I’m arrogant?
-OK, here’s one example he gave. When I walk through the office I don’t say hello or talk to anyone, no eye contact, just walk by them all. He, on the other hand, speaks to everyone. He’s imposing his values on me. I am not him.
-Do you stop and chat with others when you take those office walks?
-No, usually not.
-I’m thinking. That is how I work, I have a lot on my mind, and quite honestly, don’t think the chit chat much matters.
-So he’s right?
-I’m not him, am I?
-Understood, but is he right if he says you generally don’t engage in small talk with your staff?
-Of course I do sometimes. I’m not a machine. But I’m there to work, not spend my time bullshitting. So yes, if that is how you define it, then, yes, he might well interpret it as arrogance.
-But does your staff also think that?
-I really don’t know, never gone around to poll them and ask if they think I’m arrogant. Maybe. Does that really matter?
-That’s a telling answer… What do you think?
-OK, I’ll ask them, then.
-Come on, now, knock it off. Why so defensive?
-I am who I am. It’s worked OK so far, I haven’t done too badly.
-True. The point of this is to fine tune so you can do it better. (my italics). Think you should scale it back a bit when you walk through the office next time?
-And be more like my boss, right?
-No, always be yourself. But slow it down-others may want some attention. You’re dealing with your staff. They all watch you. You’re judged by your behaviour, not how hard you’re thinking. Act a bit differently and see what how they react.
-Oh, he also said I can be abrasive, along with the arrogance. Nice, eh?
-Well, actually, I can be, but that’s my nature. I call it as I see it, and can be abrasive sometimes. I do agree with that, but don’t think that’s a character flaw, just being honest.
-So you equate abrasiveness with honesty?
-Well, sometimes, I guess.
-So… Abrasive and arrogant, is what he’s told you to work on?
-You agree with the labels?
-I can see how I might be viewed that way.
We wrapped up that first meeting after about 90 minutes, all very pleasant and cordial. He turned to me as we were getting ready to leave, and said point blank (with just a hint of a smile), “So, can you save me?” I looked at him to see if he joking. He wasn’t. He was dead serious.
Not sure I’d call it an “aha” moment, but for a first coaching meeting, a breakthrough. My answer was an unreserved “Yes”, although he had to save himself, I only hold up a mirror… But he was smart enough to listen, and wanted to change. The rest is gravy.
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