The distraught boss threw up his hands and told me he was ready to pack it in. "It's like raising a bunch of unruly kids and they just don't listen."
"That's the point." I countered. "Unless you know the rules for getting your staff to align with you there's bound to be upset. So, let's sort out the puzzle pieces and get them in order."
I had been asked to coach Jon and he had reluctantly agreed. He hated "psycho- babble" and was sure that his expertise as a top engineer was enough to get his team going.
Trouble looms when someone is promoted based on their academic skills without the underlying people skills in place.
One of the missing pieces in leadership development is handling the projections from your staff. At its core, it's about family baggage. Yep, the left-over stuff from childhood you thought you and everyone else left behind.
Family baggage, just the term makes people want to gag. Not paying attention to this area can derail even the smartest business people. Understanding the dynamics of sitting in the chair that is marked "President," without realizing it, also says in invisible letters, "Parent" can cause havoc.
I'm talking business with a human connection.
I've spent years at off-sites, staff meetings, working with mergers and acquisitions, and in one-on-one executive coaching sessions, looking for the magic bullet for fast and effective ways to handle conflict and move to positive change.
Yes, handling conflict faster is possible. Just know that behavior patterns from our history are intimately connected with every aspect of our adult lives, not least of all our work lives.
Jon was especially annoyed with Danny, who was always saying Jon hated him. No, not in words that clear. Danny would say things like "Jon shows preferential treatment. When I talk with Jon he is always scowling. I can never do enough to make Jon happy."
Yes, Jon thought Danny was a wimp. He just wanted him to do his work and stop complaining and being a pain in the butt.
He was ready to fire him, except, Danny was a darn good engineer who solved work puzzles faster than anyone else.
This is a two -party issue.
It's the relationship between Jon and Danny that needed to change. It was time to make the invisible visible and break the cycle of frustration the two were feeling with each other.
This works for all of us.
Think about someone who reports to you and is always defensive, angry or disappointed with you. Stop taking it so personally and ask some questions. Your job is to lead them to the right path. Your job is to help them look beyond the obvious. Help them (and you) learn that everything is connected - our unconscious thoughts and our behaviors, our family life and our work life.
Here is what Jon did to support a change of relationship with Danny.
He asked Danny to offer suggestions about how they could discuss difficult issues in a new way. Rather than tell his point of view he gave Danny the lead. Danny was surprised and appreciative. He told Jon that as a kid he was always told what to do and never had the opportunity to say what would be best for him. That was the beginning of a new way of communicating.
Pay attention here.
This was not a traditional coaching session. Jon chose to be vulnerable and let Danny know he was at a loss on how to approach him and that he valued his work. He wanted to find a better way to communicate. By giving Danny the lead, not putting him in the child role, Danny was able to speak up and be heard.
Look, not every issue needs lots of time to resolve. You just need to know where to look. Understanding that family roles follow us into the workplace, gives you new ways to talk with each other. This goes for everyone at work. So please know that when you sit in the chair of leader it also says parent, whether you want it to or not.