When Laura and I are coaching individuals, pairs, and teams, these people offer the amazing gift of peeling back the layer of what I call “cool me.” Our clients present “cool me, no worries” to investors, employees, partners and themselves. I’d like to show a little from the last two weeks of what indeed is worrying them! Preserving all confidences (by withholding names and gender, and adding a tiny bit of poetic license), these scenarios echo the themes I’ve been writing about: the hierarchical–often generational–divide and conflict. Here’s a hard success, followed by two common and complicated quandaries:
- Tough success. A growing company is challenged by two things: a financial hit caused by the failure of a key client and the happy challenge of selling work that they must now staff-up for. At their mid-year leadership team meeting the three division heads each reported and vented about the amount of one-on-one time they’re feeling they must spend with younger members of their team. They sense the active one-on-one engagement is an absolutely necessary investment that will lead to long-term success. But they were bemoaning the huge time it takes – especially to give constructively critical input – to this generation.
- A now nasty dilemma. An otherwise healthy small company has lost a key leader. In leaving, the defector told them of his frustrations, but also indicated he was lured away by a huge salary offer. The company founder now worries that if they lose a second, respected – and frustrated leader – they may implode with too much work and possibly further defections. Obviously, they don’t want that! Their only choice: A radically different yet – on this Monday morning – highly uncertain path to rebuild.
- What is love? Here’s one out of management left field for you. Dylan Azul, my three-month-old grandson lives with his parents upstairs from us. Mom and Dad face the daily dilemmas every parent knows: structure vs flexibility, knowing when to give comfort vs letting the baby/child build some painful autonomy. These dilemmas arise in reality as, “Do we pick him up? Or do we all tolerate the babe’s howls of pain?” (The splendor of grandparenthood is that Jen and I can give the crying baby and these management dilemmas back to Dylan’s loving parents.)
What do all three situations involve?
Telling. Or engaging. Telling is seductively easy: Tell them to “quit crying” or “talking back” or to “remember whose house (business) this is,” is not sustainable in this age. Instead we have to do the harder-than-ever work of engagement. Harder-than-ever because “followers” don’t trust “us.” Not on race, gender, inequality, pay structures, climate, etc. In Scenario 1, those three division heads got it right. The engagement they are providing may help them avoid the defections of Scenario 2. In Scenario 2, they really had been listening. They are not backwards. But the people didn’t feel listened to; answers were slow, they were told to wait, they wanted more transparency, and they wanted to be at the table where the processing and decisions were made.
I love how my kids are listening to Dylan. They have taken the hard step to set the rules: moving him out of their room. But they are listening, discerning one cry from another, paying attention to the detail and nuance. Treating him like a full human being, despite ALLLLLLL he doesn’t yet know and cannot yet do. Leaders listen with great attention!
In my generation, I think we have three choices before us. 1. Tell them, because “Father knows best.” Good luck with that! 2. Retire, i.e., become a grandparent and “let the rest of them deal with it.” Or 3. Engage. This means the exciting and hard work of developing the skills we were never taught: to listen and express back the value of what we’re told, share power, and be ready to explain ourselves.
We’ll return to these themes, as we are helping clients with this every week, so they can
Lead with their best selves!