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Don't Be a Bad Boss


What to do when you’re the issue.

A comment hung in Alex’s mind. In colorful language, one of his people had told him he was too hard on an employee who often attended their team meetings. Alex (not his real name) was too harsh, even condescending with this staffer, and everyone noticed it. Later, his boss, who’d been on the last conference call, commented less pointedly on the same thing.

Another executive might have shrugged it off, or gotten reactive with the initial unsolicited feedback. But being the exceptional leader that he is, Alex—a former pro athlete and very well regarded—decided to take the opportunity to hire a coach. His boss, the CEO, agreed to fund it.

Feedback can be shocking. Uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, that some may blame the messenger and even find a way to punish that messenger. I’ve known people like this. You probably have, too. For these people, I’d love to have access to something like the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life to show them what could be possible if they would choose to use the opportunity to learn about a potential blind spot. We all have blind spots. When we know what they are, we can adjust and develop strategies and practices to prevent their costs.

I recommended that Alex set goals for the outcome of the process, with measures of success, and that we interview coworkers to give us more information to work with. Alex personally asked each to participate, including the person he’d been rough on, and to be candid, to support his learning and development as a leader. When contacted, some expressed surprise that Alex would hire a coach, given how good he already was in his role.

Respect for Alex deepened, not weakened.

Alex developed a better understanding of energetic styles and learned new conversation strategies so he could be more diplomatic and influential even with those he didn’t agree with. He developed new practices for staying grounded, yet observant and candid, in a hectic environment, and improving focus in meetings.

Now in an exciting new role at another firm, Alex continues his long-term relationships with all these people, several years later.

“It’s important to learn from the different perspectives of others,” Alex says. “I believe in creating an environment where people can be honest and direct with one another. Without it, you inhibit your own ability as a leader and growth in your career. People will hesitate to present problems to you, and the cost is that problems can become bigger before they’re addressed. It creates uncertainty. I believe that when you know where you’re headed and how to measure progress, and people are clear about that, they know what to do. Your people will work with you to develop the best ideas and the best way to get there.”

Don’t Be The Issue!

  • Get regular feedback. Listen to it. Learn from 360-degree interviews, employee surveys and feedback in meetings.
  • Notice if your people wait to give their opinion until hearing yours. This suggests they aren’t being candid.
  • Take responsibility. If your people aren’t doing what you’d prefer they do, assume you have something to do with that.
  • Like Alex, embrace cues from others. You’ll become more self-aware, and oddly enough, you can become more influential and powerful.

Jackie Sloane is an executive coach specializing in leadership communication. Her clients report greater effectiveness, visibility, influence and satisfaction through becoming more strategic in how they work with others. Have a topic you’d like to see covered in this column? Email us at editor@executivetravelmag.com.

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