Friday, November 19, 2010

Do you know your derailed executive through and through

In coaching a derailing manager, before you can prescribe exercises to change behaviors, you need to make a diagnosis identifying the nature or cause of the real malady. Here the term truly means “knowledge through and through.” The more information you get the better.

In my book, The Prodigal Executive, I discuss that before embarking on turning around one of your derailing managers, you need to know what you are dealing with. Without a clear idea of the person’s strengths and weaknesses, you are only guessing what is needed. This is no time to guess. Take the time to assess the true situation before you recommend a fix.

This is a lesson I learned from a derailed executive named John (real case, but not his real name). The telephone call from John’s manager was intense and anxious. The manager described John’s behavior as being hostile.

John would speak to people in critical ways. He would call people “stupid” and raise his voice when speaking with a peer on the phone in another part of the country. When I met John, he was somewhat distant, intense, and had that “big city” pushiness. John could not understand why he was being asked to work with a coach.

Furthermore, John could not understand why the others had so much of a problem with him. After a few coaching sessions, John seemed to become more positive. Suddenly, however, he refused to have me interview his peers. John could not handle the truth. He did not want to know what others really thought of him, and it was in fact difficult to make a diagnosis and develop a coaching plan.

His opposition regarding the 360-degree feedback assessment continued. This passive-aggressive style defended against truly making a diagnosis and engaging him to make meaningful change. Not only was John derailing, he made sure he derailed the coaching during the assessment phase.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Can't vs. I Don't Know How

Some derailed executives say they can’t change and reject coaching from an outside coach or their manager. But why? First, let’s tackle that word can’t. To my thinking here’s no such thing as “can’t.” There’s either “I won’t do it” or “I don’t know how to do it.”

In my experience as an executive coach, “can’t” means the person is afraid and just doesn’t know how to change. But even if somebody knows how to change, for them to self-develop and make the change on their own is very difficult. We all need feedback, and we all need support and encouragement. Unless we know what we did and what we need to do and somebody teaches us how to do it, we can’t improve.

For derailed executives there is a useful theory called the Stages of Change Model about the mind/body stages we go through when we do change. The Stages of Change Model was originally developed in the late 1970s by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente at the University of Rhode Island when they were studying how smokers were able to give up their habits. According to the model there are a number of steps: precontemplation to contemplation to determination.

The idea behind the change model is that behavior change does not happen in one step. Rather, people tend to progress through different stages on their way to successful change. You first say to yourself, “Well, I don’t have a problem. And if I don’t have a problem, I don’t need a solution.” Then you get information feedback and data, such as complaints, and you begin to say, “Maybe there is a problem.” So you start to contemplate that there is a problem. If you get even more strong data and a coach comes in, then you have to go from contemplation to determination and decide, “I need to do something about this.”

On one hand it is easy to understand why some derailed executives would reject coaching. Many derailed executives don’t understand why they should change because the company has promoted them three or four times for being the way they are.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Can a Scrooge or Darth Vader boss be changed?

Films and television shows often have a character that can only be called a toxic boss. For a mental picture, think of Scrooge in “The Christmas Carol” or Darth Vader in “Star Wars.”

Obviously, audiences can relate to this portrait of the boss as ogre. As an executive coach, I have been called in to detoxify many a boss.

The good news I have to share is that although their plight is the extreme, my experience is that with proper coaching at least 8 out of 10 toxic bosses can make a comeback. Which is good news for all those Scrooges and Darth Vaders out there and the companies who employ them. .

So, why can 80 percent of toxic bosses be saved?

Because these are individuals who are extremely successful. Many of these executives could be compared to an elite athlete. They are highly skilled, talented, and energetic. They have passion for what they do and love the companies they're working for. They feel a sense pride in their work, have an insatiable curiosity, and want to learn more.

Unfortunately, many of them have never had coaching or any sort of leadership development. They were put into a leadership role because they were good at a technical task, and they've always wanted someone to sit down with them and mentor them. As a result, many of them are ripe to learn some of these skills.

The point is this: We should not think of toxic bosses as incompetents. Rather, think of them as star athletes who need to rehab and make a comeback. What is needed is a radical intervention (coaching, not surgery) to rehabilitate the derailed executive. The productivity gains for the company make it well worth the effort.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lazy hazy approach does not work with derailed executives

Ah, those lazy, hazy days of summer. Maybe if we just give a derailed executive some time, it will all work itself out.

Wrong. Time won't solve the problem.

That was the case with Larry, a big guy with a gruff, gruff exterior. Larry was good at alienating people and creating the impression they knew nothing he knew everything about his area of specialization. Despite repeated warnings from senior executives, Larry was not changing.

In organizations, there are many ways to communicate symbolically. There are ceremonies, awards, logos, icons, contests and oft-told stories. And there are real-life leadership behaviors that “speak” volumes.

My showing up, an executive coach, created two pieces of symbolic communications for Larry. One, he didn’t believe his job was threatened until an outsider showed up. I was not afraid to confront him and tell him that he was inches away from being shown the door. The other message he got from my presence was the company was willing to make investment in him to be a more effective leader, so he had better pay attention. Happily, in Larry’s case, he did pay attention and lost the negativity.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why high level execs receive sanitized feedback

Feedback helps us find our way.

In the words of Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, the author of 19 books on leadership, “All other things being equal, your people skills (or lack thereof) become more pronounced the higher up you go. In fact, even when things are not equal, your people skills often make the difference in determining how high you go” (“behave Yourself,” Talent Management Magazine, July 2007).

The feedback a high level executive receives is so sanitized because of the politics it is of scant value. So many times executives, when they do finally get this level of feedback that they're potentially derailing, they're very surprised. And some of the comments are, "Well why wasn't I told this before?" And part of that is the fear of telling the boss there's a problem.

One of the cardinal mistakes for the manager is canceling a feedback meeting. Do not cancel the session. If you have to, make sure you reschedule it for the same day. Here’s why. The first time you cancel, the person says, "See they didn't really believe in this stuff anyways." This is also called symbolic communication. By saying one thing (scheduling a meeting), but then doing another thing (canceling the meeting) you've conveyed that the meeting is not really important.

Of course, it is human nature that people don’t want to give other people bad news. That is why there are expressions like, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Deep down people want to be seen as likable, the nice guy or gal. Because they want to be nice, giving people negative, but necessary, feedback is the hardest thing for them to do.

The classic example I talk about in my book The Prodigal Executive is the senior executive who gave performance appraisals in the restroom. This manager would see the employee in the restroom and hand the person a folder with things they're doing well and not well.

Regardless of the reason, if you are a manager and you don't give somebody in your organization negative feedback, it borders on being unethical. You're carrying information the employee needs to know for their career survival. If that person doesn't succeed but could have if they had the information, then you as their manager have set them up for failure.

The problem for executives is that the higher up the organizational ladder you climb, the less feedback you get.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Executive Coaching Lessons from the World Cup

Coaches have been in the headlines during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. British newspapers have ridiculed England's World Cup squad and called upon coach Fabio Capello to quit after elimination by a humiliating 4-1 defeat to Germany.

The loss was marked by a refereeing mistake that denied England a goal. But the papers' anger was mainly directed at the coach, Capello.

Meanwhile France, a world soccer powerhouse, was eliminated from the World Cup this year in the first round, scoring only one goal in three games. The French ejection from a tournament they won in 1998 followed an apparent collapse in relations between coach Raymond Domenech and his players. Domenech left team captain Patrice Evra out of the final match and the team refused to practice just days before it.

Like the French players, some derailed executives, reject coaching. But why?

First, let’s tackle that word can’t. To my thinking here’s no such thing as “can’t.” There’s either “I won’t do it” or “I don’t know how to do it.”

In my experience as an executive coach, “can’t” means the person is afraid and just doesn’t know how to change. But even if somebody knows how to change, for them to self-develop and make the change on their own is very difficult. We all need feedback, and we all need support and encouragement. Unless we know what we did and what we need to do and somebody teaches us how to do it, we can’t improve.

As I mention in my book, The Prodigal Executive, people don’t really self-develop. To illustrate, every World Cup soccer team practices. At every practice there are four cameras set up on stilts that are recording the action. The players are improving by constantly looking at film afterwards with the coaches. Together they look at what they did in a situation and discuss what they should have done differently. In addition there are also coaches at the practice giving the players ongoing feedback on how to improve. If the team doesn’t provide that kind of coaching, players won’t know what to change, and they won’t be inspired to do it.

Teams like Brazil and Germany have won many World Cups. So the question is: “Why are they practicing? They know how to play soccer.” The answer of course is that there is so much at stake they want to rehearse and go over the plays. Likewise, there is so much at stake for these derailed executives. They need to run the plays when it’s not in a game situation. Where else can they do that but with a coach who can give them feedback?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The cause of toxic workplaces

Maybe you are familiar with derailed executives. Some create toxic workplaces that cause good employees to flee.

Others are causing customers to complain in ever increasing numbers. The executive’s peers have become alienated too. Their fellow executives don’t want to speak to this ticking time bomb of a person because they are always abrasive. So they avoid them. This creates a serious lack of communication all over the organization. And for whatever reason their behavior is deteriorating fast.

So why not just fire them?

Ah, that is the dilemma. These are extremely valuable employees. Some bring in millions of dollars to the corporation. If they go, the revenue goes with them. Others have a specialized skill or body of knowledge. They are the best in business and there is no way to replace that kind of expertise.

So what do you do? In my book, The Prodigal Executive, I explained that there are basically two ways to get a derailed executive back on track.

One approach is that a company can internally coach the executive back on track. This involves the HR executive or the CEO sitting down with the executive and providing very clear, crisp, and firm feedback using observational data. He or she gives the individual very clear behavioral expectations, a timeline for them to use, and works with the individual to create a plan of action for how the individual is going to turn around every area.

The second approach is to have an coach from outside the company work with the derailed executive.

If they are creating a toxic workplace, then doing nothing is not an option.