The Business ChallengeThe HR Director within the Manufacturing and Supply Division of a Fortune 100 R&D company had received multiple complaints about one of their Vice Presidents, a high performer who had been with the company for over 25 years. He was reported to have yelled and cursed at individuals and teams, criticized actions and decisions without a balanced view of what had been done well, and set unhealthy expectations of working past a work-life balance. There was a steady flow of employees away from his department, and morale there was very low, even though the group's performance numbers continued to look good. The HR Director asked us if we could work with this VP and his direct team to help him take into account the negative impact he was having on people and adjust his style.
The ZTA SolutionIn meeting with the VP, our coach learned that he had a request as well: he did not feel that his team was communicating or performing at its maximum potential, and he wanted our help in improving his team. Our coach made a deal - we'd help get his team tuned up if he'd work with the coaching process to address the complaints being raised and the overall satisfaction of his employees. The coaching conversations went very well over the next few weeks, at least in that he VP definitely seemed to enjoy the sessions. But by the sixth session our coach was having to face the conclusion that he did not feel that he had made any progress towards the desired outcome.
He was reckoning with that conclusion during the session as the client began telling a particularly stirring story: he related how much he loved to take what sounded like a well-reasoned, well-presented idea from one of his team members, poke a couple holes in it, argue with them, and watch their blood pressure rise as they tried to defend their idea. The coach's first internal reaction was "how twisted is this guy?" but in a flash, he realized that the VP was giving him a very direct invitation into understanding his world, and he reached a new insight: "This guy is a fighter! He simply loves to fight!" As the VP continued his story, the coach realized why he had made no difference with this client in all this time: he was basically modeling and espousing a "be nice to people, treat people well" ethos to a fighter who simply didn't buy into that model. "If I want to get through to this guy," he reasoned, "I need to join him in his love of fighting."
So our coach mustered his courage, leaned across the table, looked the VP in the eyes, raised his voice and asked "What the bleep are you doing to these people?" The VP leaned back slowly in his chair, put his hand on his chin, slowly nodded his head and finally said, "You're right."
The coach had succeeded in stepping out of his own rules and expectations, taken the information being offered by the client, and entered into the client's world of rules and expectations, and in so doing finally gained the trust and understanding of the client. The rest of the coaching, and the session with the team, proceeded very well. The team members were able to communicate directly to the VP some of the negative impact his behaviors had on them previously, and he was able to make genuine, sustainable agreements with them to adjust his behaviors in the direction that the team was asking for (e.g. no yelling at team meetings, appointing a facilitator to watch time and ensure everyone had their say, reflective listening, etc.).
Towards the end of this session with the team, the VP took everybody by surprise when he exclaimed: "I've just had a breakthrough! I realize what I have been doing all this time! You have to understand, I am deeply Catholic, and I believe in the Golden Rule. Well, that is what I have been trying to do. I have been trying to treat others as I like to be treated! I like fighting, I don't mind being yelled at - I'd rather have that than people being indirect with me. So that is how I have been treating others." He continued: "I get it now that maybe what I should be doing isn't treating people how I want to be treated, but figuring out a bit how they want to be treated, and adjusting my style accordingly."
A year later the team reported that he had been true to his agreements. He's still the same person, they said, he'd still yell at the ones who can handle it, but the team as a whole had much more effective meetings, and felt confident that he'd listen when they reminded him of the workability agreements they'd made. So he got the result he wanted, as well, in terms of improved communication and performance on his team.