Erik stormed into the meeting, his team weren’t delivering on his expectations and his manager ‘was breathing so hard down my neck it’s leaving burn marks’ complained Erik.
His frustration came through in his voice (tone and speed), his body language (standing up at the end of the desk, leaning forward, eye-rolling featured as well as sighing with head in hands) and how he directed questions, lots of accusations starting with Why…. Why didn’t… Why haven’t…? And the clincher to derail conversations: What you need to understand is…… an extra emphasis on ‘YOU’.
Samson was the target due to not delivering from Erik’s perspective. ‘The work was sent on Thursday, it’s now Tuesday and I haven’t got the information I need’ Erik shared, justifying his approach and behaviours.
The meeting ended with Samson publicly shamed, leaving work early and reassessing his career.
What was really going on?
Erik, struggling with a huge workload, challenging stakeholders and budget cuts, had lost the clarity needed to lead from a healthy state and to make strategic decisions. His health and wellbeing were compromised including his relationships at work and at home. The unacceptable behaviours created a toxic culture spreading like a virus.
Productivity and Engagement dropped significantly.
Erik wasn’t sleeping, affecting his ability to think clearly, make decisions and retain information.
In a hyper-alert state, he was always on the lookout for danger making him reactive.
Absorbed in the things he had to deliver (do) he lost sight of who he was being (behaving) as a Leader, a partner and the person he saw himself to be. This identity clash between perception and reality was the hardest to digest, it took courage to look closely, the first step in changing his behaviours and outcomes.
“When we focus on the task first we treat people as objects and disconnect from our humanity and theirs”.
Exhausted, Erik was treating people like objects, problems to be fixed. This wasn’t his intention, it was the reality.
Samson with a newborn at home was sleep deprived too. Taking advantage of the flexible work program, he worked a 3 day week, Tuesday to Thursday.
During our Coaching, Erik had some realisations.
- He sent work to Samson at 9 pm on Thursday evening, outside his contracted hours.
- A lack of clarity on the task left Samson to unravel what was needed.
- Erik loves acronyms, often his team don’t know what he is talking about, and don’t ask for clarification.
Removing these 2 things made a difference.
Why Questions. Tend to create a defensive response in others and feeling under interrogation. What, When, How as conversation starters made a difference.
Sentences starting with You can ignite a parental dynamic, unhelpful in adult to adult conversations. Dr Eric Berne’s work on Parent, Adult, Child ego states is worth a read.
He proposed to avoid using You, and replace it with ‘I’ for strong adult to adult interactions. However, it’s important not to overuse ‘I’. Dr Phyliss Mindell in her book How to Say if for Women shares that overusing ‘I’ puts us at risk of owning issues that do not belong to us with negative consequences, diminishing our communication and effectiveness. Great advice for both men and women.
Sustainable work practices
To ensure our next session wasn’t going to be delivered in the Emergency Room at the local hospital, a very real possibility if changes were not made Erik:
- Booked a family weekend away (tech-free)
- Downloaded a meditation app with quick 2-minute breathing exercises to listen to in between every meeting. (lot’s of resistance here at first, now it’s a mainstay).
- Reformatted and cut out meetings, choosing which ones he did not need to attend, providing development opportunities for his team members.
- Scheduling 30 minute regroup times throughout his day.
Facilitating a conversation with his team
There was work to be done to repair some rifts and misunderstandings, as well as creating a space for leadership to emerge within the team.
Some of these included:
- Agreeing on boundaries around work delegated and moving everything off the ‘Urgent red light’ code that Erik utilised.
- Repairing the relationship damage caused by Erik’s unrealistic expectations and lack of respect for his team members’ work hours. We aligned his behaviours to his values.
- Providing a framework for Erik to utilise with all aspects of the business including major stakeholders around roles, availability and expectations.
- Cleaning up the acronyms and jargon that no one understood. Together the team picked the ones to keep, created some new ones. And had a great laugh together at the ones they just couldn’t make sense of even when explained.
- We created a safer environment for people to Step Up into their Leadership and to ask when something didn’t make sense.
What are your unrealistic expectations? What can you clean up?