John’s* tears were real then later his smile sincere. I knew we were at the heart of a significant issue. He received difficult feedback from his 360 reports. John knew he had a challenge communicating with his team members. He had high marks for caring and valuing the staff. He had a problem. John didn’t know how to give feedback. When conflict came he would respond in frustration and disengagement. The 360 reports revealed the same pattern. It was an issue for most of his life personally and professionally. The tears gave us pause to sit in the significance of the moment. In the silence, we sensed we were on the edge of a real breakthrough.
John’s manager gave him high marks in most competencies. The few areas of critical feedback came in three areas: encouraging the team, developing his people, and focusing on others. His direct reports wrote, “I need more feedback”, “He’s a good role model, but I need to know I can improve”, “He's always talking about projects, I wish he’d take an interest in me personally”. We discussed his current projects, his responsibilities, and the relationships with his direct reports. His technical competencies were rated 9’s and 10’s on his report. His abilities to execute getting work done were also high marks. John’s work ethic was without question. The numbers began to slide on effective delegation and aligning the team. The recurring theme of communication challenges was coming clear. At, 40 something, John’s responsibilities were growing, more staff, budget, and demands. His “not afraid to get his hands dirty” style served him in training and tactics, but were limiting his leadership effectiveness.
He shared “I’m fine with joking around with my team. Then when it’s time to work that stops and I’m all business until we get our work done. Giving feedback I don’t really know what to say. I’m afraid of getting too personal. Work is hard and I get intense in the tasks at hand. When it doesn’t go well I get mad and pull away. It’s an issue that has to change.”
Given the few comments from his manager, I asked about their relationship. “My manager is the reason I’m here getting training and coaching. He sees something in me that I don’t see in myself. He’s taking the time to help me. He’s given me a shot at my last few projects.”
What are the qualities of your manager that you admire?... That’s when I saw John smile. “He believes in me. He invests in me as a leader. He gives me challenging projects. He’s quick to share honest feedback when I’m out of line. I know he’s got my back. He’s more of a mentor than a manager.”
How can you learn from his modeling to manage your team?... John thought for a moment. I could start by taking each of them to lunch.
When’s the last time you took your team members individually to lunch?... It’s been a long time.
What would you like to discuss?... “First, I want to listen to what’s going on for them personally, families, hobbies, interest, even their goals.” Then I want to share what I’m learning through my assessments and 360 reports. I want to be a better communicator and connect with my team. I want to thank them for their comments and patience with me as I’m growing. Then I want to ask... How can we communicate better in the future?... then listen to understand what feedback they need from me.”
John, when are you going to schedule your lunches? “All in the next month. I’m going to get them on the calendar today.”
What would like to say to your manager after these lunches? His smile got even bigger. “I want to thank him for his modeling, the difference he’s made, and how I’m paying it forward with my team.”
John, I can’t wait to hear how it goes. Way to go!
As the coaching conversation continued, we discussed the modeling from his manager. The ways John felt valued and invested in. Learning from his manager we brainstormed a few leadership questions for his next lunches with his team. As they took shape he saw them as a single focus for each lunch for the next 5-6 months. He had a plan and strategy to invest in his people.
5 Leadership Investment Questions
Believe How can I support you to succeed? Challenges your facing?
Advancement Where would like to see your career in the next 3 years?
Leadership Development How do want to grow in your abilities at work?
Feedback What feedback do you need from me? Encouraging or Instructive? How
Work Life Vitality What ways are you staying healthy outside of work?
For more questions to help you get ready for your next one2one or team meeting visit Leadership Conversation
*John is not his real name. The story represents a sample coaching session.