Over the last year I worked to develop a relationship with a large company in the transportation industry. This included starting over midway through when the person who oversees their coaching practice left the organization. Several months after that setback I had a terrific conversation with the new director. Finally, on her recommendation, I interviewed with two HR specialists to become part of their stable of coaches. I waited patiently as two weeks passed without hearing a word. Then I received an email informing me they selected someone else.
As the disappointment set in that I wouldn’t be coaching their senior leaders, I felt the dejection of rejection. It’s not a feeling I enjoy, and it’s one reason being a salesperson will never be in my career plans. I moped around for about an hour, went outside for some fresh air and about every 30 minutes until bedtime kept falling back into wondering what went wrong.
The next morning I woke up refreshed and with a new attitude. While I could have sat around feeling sorry for myself – ‘How could they not choose me?’ – that would have only wasted time. It wouldn’t have changed anything.
Then wisdom arrived: This was not about me being qualified or talented enough to coach their leaders; it was about the decision-maker selecting what is best – from her perspective – for their organization. My role in the process was to be authentic. I did my part. She did hers. This time there wasn’t alignment. Tomorrow will be another opportunity with another organization. I’m ready.
When you live in Texas and see news about snowstorms affecting other parts of the country, you think, “Glad that’s not us.” Until, of course, when the Super Bowl decides to come to DFW. Watching ESPN the past few days, folks across America could have been convinced the Lone Star State is frozen tundra during February. Even here in Houston – 270 miles to the south – they’re predicting several inches of snow over the next 24 hours.
It’s amazing how easily perceptions are embedded deeply in folk’s minds. In my coaching work with executives, I’ll interview a dozen people the client feels know him or her best, then share their quotes without attribution. Inevitably I’ll hear from the client, “That comment about me being condescending refers to one thing that happened a couple of years ago.” Yet there it is, a big enough issue to a team member that he felt the need to tell me about it during our 15-minute conversation.
While a single comment may or may not be relevant to a leader’s long-term success, understanding that supervisors, peers and direct reports have long memories is important. That quip you blurt out in a meeting that makes light of someone’s slip-up – the one everybody laughs at and you think is completely harmless – may have a lasting impact on your relationship with the object of your humor.
The snow in DFW will be forgotten once the NFL leaves town and temperatures rise; perceptions others hold of you aren’t so easily changed. So if your relationship with someone seems to be on ice, ask her what you did. If she tells you, apologize. Chances are it’s not too late to repair the misstep you don’t remember and warm up the chill in the air.
Part of my coaching work with executives consists of conducting feedback interviews with 10-12 of their supervisors, peers and direct reports. This provides insight into the perceptions of those who know the person being coached in a working relationship. Typically, three or four underlying behaviors arise that clients seek to improve during our coaching sessions.
While it’s better to have a detached third-person – like a coach – explore areas around what are Susie’s biggest strengths, where are ways Billy can be more successful and describe John’s communication style, you can do this on your own.
Choose a few folks who you interact with on a regular basis and ask them to sit down and share how they see you… giving them permission upfront to be candid. Listen closely to what they’re saying, taking a few ‘headline’ notes without being absorbed in capturing every word. Be sure not to react to anything you hear. This isn’t an exercise in right or wrong, good or bad; it’s exploratory research and a chance to learn.
These conversations should last less than 15 minutes. End each one by asking is there anything else I should know that would help me be a better leader? Then simply say thank you. There’s no need to accept, reject or negotiate any of their viewpoints. After you talk to everyone review your notes and look for patterns where you could do better. Chances are if there’s something you need to change more than one person mentioned it. Choose two or three that are important to you, and put together a self-improvement plan.
Circle back to tell each person how much you appreciate his or her helping you, and share the first things you’re going to address. This lets them know it wasn’t just a conversation that ended without action. Finally, select one person to serve as your accountability partner to ensure you stay focused on achieving change, and schedule brief ‘check in’ updates every few weeks for several months. Soon you’ll start seeing a better you.
Counting down the Top 10 Things I learned this year:
First Things First – During a coaching session one of my clients was describing the challenges he faces in his start-up company. Like many, he struggles balancing all the stuff on his plate. My response: “That’s why I’m eliminating things getting in the way of my success.” There will always be more to do, and most of us focus on what we enjoy, not necessarily what we need to be doing. I recently gave up my position as a columnist for an industry magazine, mutually agreed to end a long-term coaching relationship and decided not to renew a consulting contract. What will you let go of in 2010 to free up extra hours in your schedule?