A free, searchable archive of Executive Coaching Tips to help you be perceived in the workplace the way you want to be perceived.
Give feedback upward? Or not?
Sergei openly admired his boss, Alicia. So he really grabbed my attention the day he asked how he could give her some overdue feedback.
“A lot of the time, Alicia will use our staff meetings to think out loud,” he told me. “She’ll off-handedly mention, ‘Oh, we should do some research about that product,’ or ‘We should get that department involved in this initiative.’
“We’re never sure if she’s just talking or if she’s actually assigning work. Later on, she might ask what happened with that project. If we didn’t take action on it, she wonders why we didn’t. That can get really awkward! What do we say? ‘We didn’t know you were serious?’ More
Values that don’t add value
Anil began managing a team whose reputation for customer service was pretty poor. The team’s primary responsibility was creating complex reports for other groups inside the company. The word about the team was that their output was consistently sloppy and late.
“I don’t get it,” he told me. “The company’s values are posted all over the place. And one of those values is to be customer-focused. I keep telling the team they need to serve their customers. They insist that they do, but they don’t! Believe me, Tom, no one in the company thinks they’re customer focused. But they don’t seem to have a clue what I’m talking about.” More
An inept expert
Frank won his position because of his expertise in an obscure accounting specialty. Initially, Frank’s boss, Lynne, hoped he would someday become the group leader. But less than four months after his arrival, that hope had died: Frank was so abrasive that Lynne had to take his two direct reports away from him in order to keep them from leaving the company.
Early in our coaching, I became aware that Frank’s version of events rarely matched other people’s versions of events. In his stories, he was the solitary voice of reason, fighting the good fight against the irrational whims of the department head. Everyone else’s stories, from the executives to the administrative assistants, had Frank as an infuriating obstruction who had no idea how to be part of a team. More
Stuck in “truth”
As she greeted me in the lobby, Miranda let me see she was fuming. I knew in an instant the decision she’d been anticipating had not gone her way.
For over a month, she’d been pitching her ideas about a major policy decision to everyone around her. Influencing the outcome had been our only topic of conversation during a previous coaching session. Now it seemed the decision had been made—and not in her favor. More
No one was neutral about Cary. In a global company that often moved slowly, Cary got stuff done. The chief executives to whom he reported loved that Cary could push projects to completion. His peers, on the other hand, were cautious. Cary was a beneficial ally, but when he started driving for results, he could cause a lot of destruction. His peers were constantly trying to contain him or avoid him.
The vast rank and file below Cary lived in fear of him. The saying was that, when working on anything involving Cary, you either had to execute perfectly or else you got perfectly executed. More
Disruption creates more disruption
I’d been coaching Marina, a very disruptive executive, for several months when her boss, Shauna, called asking for a little help. I wasn’t officially coaching Shauna, but because Marina was so difficult to manage, I’d talked with Shauna frequently.
“I think I blew it yesterday,” she told me. “I stopped by Marina’s office to do the ‘drip, drip, drip’ feedback you suggested and she just flipped out. She started screaming that she was getting results our department hasn’t seen in years and that if I wasn’t going to support her then she was going to file a complaint against me. More
What makes an executive “disruptive”?
Shauna wanted me to coach Marina, one of her direct reports. I ended up doing that. But, in an unusual move, I also ended up coaching Shauna about how to manage Marina. Here’s why.
Shauna told me Marina’s expertise was unique and valuable. “But she’s defensive and combative,” she added. “When she doesn’t get her way, she can hold the whole department hostage. Her direct reports are afraid of her. Heck, Tom, there are times when I’m afraid of her!
“I’ve told her she needs to improve her relationships but nothing’s improving. In fact, when I talk to her about her behavior, everything seems to get worse.” More
The roots of depletion
Because Johanna’s international travels are relentless, she and I often conduct our coaching sessions via her company’s high-definition video conferencing. Recently, I watched as she dropped into frame with a grunt and smiled at me wanly. Her look prompted me to ask, with sincere concern, “How’re you doing?”
Her shoulders fell. Her eyes welled up. Her chin sunk to her chest. Then her hands covered her face. She was quiet a long time, then whispered, “Oh, Tom, I’m so tired.”
Johanna is not fragile. She loves working at the senior level of one of the world’s largest technology companies. But this day, she was worn out and beaten down. More
“How do I get his attention?”
Natalie was at the end of her rope. “How do I get his attention?” she asked, referring to her boss, Marc. “I barely start talking and I can see he’s not listening. He’s checking his email or his phone. Whatever he’s doing, he sure isn’t listening. And I know this isn’t about me. He’s like this with everyone.”
I smiled to myself. Just the day before, I’d met Andre for our third coaching session. During our initial meeting, I’d brought him his 16-page Myers-Briggs Type Indicator report. He’d flipped through the first couple pages, then tossed it on the table and changed the subject. He’d begun our second session by announcing that he’d cut our two-hour meeting down to one hour. Then he’d proceeded to tell me about a problem his son was facing at college. I listened while trying to figure out if there was some relevance to the story. More
Your essence under attack
Ian rose through the ranks of a rough and tumble international petroleum sales organization. Now wearing a shirt and tie, he is ensconced in an office on the executive floor of the global headquarters. His boss, one away from the CEO, repeatedly tells Ian he needs to rein in his volatile style, stop his sailor’s mouth and generally get buttoned up. Over and over, Ian’s boss tells him, “You’re an executive now. Act like one.”
“But that’s how I am,” Ian barked at me. “It’s how I got here, for chrissake! I don’t want to put a damn muzzle on myself every time I get off the elevator.” More
“People quit their bosses.”
After two of Brendan’s direct reports transferred to other divisions and another left the company, I became concerned that Brendan might be the sort of boss reflected in the saying, “People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.”
He and I began discussing how leaders can demonstrate they have their employees’ best interests at heart. Over time we discussed eleven different behaviors. I introduced five in last month’s Executive Coaching Tip. Here are the other six. More
“Does my boss have my best interest at heart?”
The original goal for Brendan’s coaching was to polish his executive presence. But after I heard that two of his team members had transferred to other divisions and a third had left the company, I began to explore how he was managing his team.
I started the conversation by asking not about his team but rather about when in his career he’d felt most engaged and motivated. He described a job he’d had a decade earlier in another city
“Maybe I’ve painted it rosier than it was,” he said, “but my memory is that it was a great job at a great company. And,” he added with a fond smile, “I had a great boss.” More