Monthly Archives: September 2014

“My Life and Work is on the Skids. What do I do?”

railroaded-cn-derailment-photo-brampton-oct-7-2013I have coached many executive men and women, mostly from Fortune 500 companies, and the majority of these engagements begin with a statement similar to the title of this article.  More often than not, a Senior Executive calls and tells me about a valued executive whose performance and/or personal life are on the brink of derailment, with potential to negatively impact their future employment.  They call because they value the executive enough to invest the time and resources to help restore them to productivity before it is too late and they have to let them go.

There are a lot of reasons for leadership derailment, many of which I have addressed in previous blogs.  When the issues are primarily work related, I work with the individual and the organization to assess the situation and define the engagement.  These engagements often involve 360 assessments or interviews, a review of past performance reviews, and psychological and leadership style assessments, all of which help provide the client with greater insight and organizational awareness, which is the foundation for defining the goals and strategies for our coaching.

However, when the derailment has crossed into the personal, marriage and/or family dimensions, I work hard to include the spouse in the assessment and the solution.  When the spouse is willing (and I have never had one turn down this opportunity) potential to achieve positive outcomes increases exponentially.

My graduate training in marriage and family therapy is ideal for me as an Executive Coach, because it is a systems theory based training, which shows how all the systems and dimensions of life are interconnected and must be addressed systemically in order to find the best solutions and paths forward.

While this coaching engagement will also involve 360 assessments, interviews with superiors, a look at past performance reviews and psychological/style assessments, it also involves a two and a half day intensive coaching session with the executive and their spouse, and may even involve two coaches.

The intensive nature of this part of the coaching is ideal for the hard charging executive, who does not want to wait for a year’s worth of coaching to achieve momentum and results, especially when so much is at stake.  The intensity of the focus allows for much greater self-awareness and accountability.  What the executive might attempt to rationalize or deny in a one on one coaching conversation, is impossible when their spouse, who knows them best, is sitting there in the room.  I have also found that it takes a full day or day and a half of intensive coaching for the walls of self-protection and positioning to come down and authenticity to enter the room.   But when that happens, we are well on our way to a great outcome.

Once the goals are clearly identified, the coaching resumes its normal course of identifying strategies to achieve results.  Some of these strategies are solely focused on professional development.  Some include goals for achieving greater personal and relational success.  The remainder of the coaching engagement (which can last six months to a year) will be helping the executive stay on task and not let the whirlwind of their work and life derail them from what they have said is most important to them.

They come to me with the fears of losing their job.  They come with professional failures.  They come with divorce papers in hand.  They come with addictions.  They come after they have crossed personal and professional boundaries at work.  The good news is that in the vast majority of the cases, we have been able to find solutions that prevent their derailment, both professionally and personally.  And that’s fun stuff.  Hard work, but fun stuff.

What do you do, or where do you turn when you feel like your work and/or personal life is on the decline?

The Rest of the Story

ResourceForLeading-FBProfileThe late Paul Harvey used to do a radio segment called The Rest of the Story. In these segments, Harvey would tell a unique backstory full of little known facts of some well-known personality or organization.  He would save the name of the story’s main character to the end and would always sign off with, “and now you know the rest of the story.”  You have your own unique backstory. Maybe someone came alongside you early on and saw your potential.  Maybe you fought your way out of a tough situation and fought for everything you have.  Maybe you were at the right place at the right time and prepared for the right opportunity.  Every story is different.  But now you’re in a position where you have the opportunity to play some part in helping someone else write what will be the rest of their story.

My (Adam’s) business partner’s son is entering his last semester of college. He came to lunch with us the other day asking advice about job searching, interviewing and first jobs. It brought back all kinds of memories of when I was starting out.  Do you remember what it was like starting your career? Whether it was as a teenager, right out of college or later in life you went through the awkward interview process and landed your first gig. You were likely thrilled to start your new job. For some, that excitement continued as they were led and managed well.  For others, the thrill quickly faded into the difficult and mundane. Where did you get your start in your career?

What’s it like at the entry level of your organization? What’s it like for people who work with and for you? The ground floor levels of organizations are full of bright and talented people often times working in circumstances of which leadership is unaware. They see their managers jockeying for position when you’re around. They see how others act one way around you and another around them. They see the truly great leaders in your organization. They’re the ones whose eyes light up when you’ve promoted the right person, but they’re also the ones who sink when you promoted a self-absorbed self-promoter. How do you take care of all levels of your organization with so much going on?  While you may have delegated this responsibility, your involvement is critical.  It not only shows value to those at the entry level, but also teaches your directors and managers how to lead a team, and creates accountability for them to do just that.  So, how do you remind your people and you managers that the stories of their people are important?  I have found the following suggestions to be helpful:

  1. Remember, You’re Not Special. Yes, your grandmother always thought you were special, but I’m not talking about her.  I’m talking about you.  Don’t be special to you. Don’t carry yourself as though you’re special to your organization.  It breeds entitlement in your life and also gives permission for other leaders to do the same.  Humility goes a long way.  Seek out the unexpected and make it commonplace. If you want to get the rest of the story you have to be disarming, and that only comes when you find the person in front of you more interesting than yourself or your objectives.  It may be a transition for you, but it will come with practice and will not only yield great insight, but will also make you an all-around better person.  Always introduce yourself and use your first name. That may be a hard pill to swallow, but let’s just admit that times have changed and going by Mr. or Ms. only fosters an artificial hierarchy in your organization.  Assuming others know you only reinforces that you’re supposed to be special to the person you’re meeting with.
  2. Take Notice of the Wallflowers. Those who fly under the radar may not surface in front of you very often, but they are oftentimes impressive observers of what’s going on in an organization. You’ll always have visibility to aggressive go getters climbing their way to the top, but you’ll miss out on some significant opportunities for improvement if you don’t seek out the quiet ones.
  3. Make It Commonplace. It’s understandable that your schedule is busy and it feels impossible to add one more thing to your list. Some organizations set up special lunches with leaders. Sometimes those are with groups of high potentials. Although these structured settings are easier to manage, you’re likely to get a lot of what you want to hear rather than what you really need to hear.  So, make it commonplace. When walking through a floor of your building introduce yourself and grab five minutes to visit with someone you don’t know. Ask who they are, what they do in the company and what challenges they face with their role. Learn from whomever you’re visiting.  Sure, invite people to lunch when you’d like. When you have specific problems you want to solve bring together a group of people to gain insights.  Just don’t miss the five minute conversations right in front of you. You may find a hidden gem of a leader or a solution to a nagging problem hiding at the ground floor of your organization.
  4. Set precedent for openness. As a leader you have a significant impact, sometimes much larger than you think.  Whether or not you’re aware of it, everything you do and how you do it echoes through your organization.  How you treat others, who you hire, who you fire, what you laugh at, how you make decisions, and implement change; all these set precedent within your organization.  How you lead governs your team’s work ethic, how they take care of their people, handle customers and work on a team.  By carrying yourself with humility you make clear that you value your people and you foster openness in your organization.  By taking notice of the time to get to know people across all levels you gain insight into the real strengths and weaknesses within your organization.  When you make engaging others commonplace you set the example for other leaders to get to know their teams in a similar manner.

You have the privilege of creating the environment that helps people write a story worth telling, one that fosters success from the new hire in an entry level position, all the way to your direct reports. Think about it.  What would it have been like to work in an environment where a leader thought of others as interesting as themselves, found all people to be valuable resources and made engagement with them commonplace?  Never forget that you play an integral part in helping your people write the rest of their stories.   Good Day!

Co-written with Adam Hawk, MBA, MA – VP of Acquisitions, RENU Management.  

Results Oriented Team Development: It’s not just fun and games. 

Dragon boat race crewWell, its team development time again!  You’ve likely seen these programs in action. A rubber chicken flies through the air; team members are tethered together attempting to navigate an obstacle course; toys, tent poles and blind folds are all in play.  It can easily feel like a flashback to your school yard field days?

As a leader it can be hard to quantify the value of such an event.  They are often fun for employees and yield residual positives around the office through newly formed friendships and greater camaraderie, but those are likely not the primary results for which you forked over your money.

You wanted lasting change and enduring results, but instead you got a play date with a hiking boot, cargo shorts wearing hippie (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Why not just have a BBQ behind your building or air March Madness on a projector screen in your parking lot? That’s a lot of fun, saves the road trip, keeps the hippie out of your world and you know in advance you’re just blowing money on fun rather than having your expectations of a powerful event go unmet.

But, you wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t wrestling with wanting more for your team. How are you supposed to know that your event will be more than a field day?  Consider this:

Every event should serve a clear purpose. Some events address broad corporate initiatives and work to close the gap between departments, drawing on diverse perspectives to enrich and sustain a collaborative work environment.

These events often open the minds of individuals/teams in one area of a business to their impact on those in other areas. These are also great opportunities to draw on each person’s wealth of experience to improve processes across the company, division or business unit, and to engage them in real problem solving.

The light bulbs start going off when an employee in one department sheds light on something a director right under your nose couldn’t solve.  A great event will help you get your people in the right place, under the right circumstances, engaged in the right conversations.

The smaller team development events should be more specific, but just as strategic.  They can incorporate team and individual personality profiles and tread into the more crucial conversations on long term planning, new objectives, team performance, group dynamics, building trust, and minimizing conflict and personality clashes, etc.

You should expect this type of event to be highly customized to your team.  While you may want to incorporate this into an experiential adventure or destination retreat, remember, the key is not the activity or the destination, but how these are used as catalysts to help you achieve your objectives.

Going into these events ask yourself and expect your facilitator to ask you the following types of questions.

  1. What am I trying to accomplish and why?
  2. What are the greatest challenges you and your team face right now?
  3. What differences will you need to see to know your time and money were well spent?
  4. Am I ready and do I know what it takes to lead a high performing team?

As you prepare for this year’s team development know what you’re looking for and why.  Ask good questions and expect to be asked penetrating questions. You should walk away from an initial assessment with your facilitator having learned something about yourself and the power of team dynamics.

Look for a facilitator with training in group and organizational dynamics, psychology and significant experience in team development. Require that they connect the dots between the team development initiatives and outcomes you are expecting and that your organization needs.

Let them know your budget and ask them to guide you in location selection and program/event design to ensure that the entire event works smoothly to achieve all of your objectives.

Co-written with Adam Hawk, MBA, MA – VP of Acquisitions, RENU Management.  First published in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, Vol. 18, No. 13, September 1, 2014