In Executive A eyes, he was amazing. 10 years in 3 blue chip companies, rapid promotions and a track record of success. In each company he had in his words achieved the following:
1. Wiped the floor with colleagues
2. Beat all sales targets
3. Negotiated like a demon when it came to deal making
4. Shown zero tolerance for wimps and wasters
5. Had 4 promotions when others had languished with zero ‘oomph’
And so, it continued a list of accomplishments with an accompanying disdain for modesty he had ‘nothing to be humble about’. All this delivered as fact, without a trace of irony! In the briefing for the development work, the task in his view was to motivate a team characterised as ‘dull underachievers’.
Improving performance involves an analysis of facts, data and other organisational development work. The work to consolidate teams, build consensus and develop a shared culture often starts with identifying the source of the disconnect. It is very rare to see the actual problems or uncover the causal issues in a single meeting without all the key players.
In a group coaching setting, until the group is comfortable with sharing, masks can remain intact. Gradually, one by one in the safe confidential setting of our group work, the team of over 20 individuals highlighted a management style that displayed a disregard for their unique skills, a creeping sense that they existed to be cheerleaders for the ‘star performer,’ the blunt dismissals of their achievements, the apparent disdain for ‘personal weaknesses’ and routine ridicule had all contributed to an atmosphere of nervousness and collective resignation. They didn’t see the point of trying.
For team members, it was tough admitting feelings of failure and humiliation when leads were brought in but not acknowledged, when creative ideas were critically evaluated as lacking facts or substance before they had been fully presented. Emotional at times these meetings can be intense. Anyone working in a field that involves analysing group dynamics will know that it takes one strong character to challenge a norm for other voices to join in and then with careful facilitation it is possible to see whether an apparent truth is real or imagined.
Diplomacy in this context is knowing when and how to mention the blatantly obvious in a way that avoids defensiveness.
Reality verses perception is the investigative approach in this situation. Several exercises later, individually and as a group the problem came out loud and clear. Excellence as a lead on sales does not make a great manager or leader.