It's not me, it's you!
I was recently asked by a law firm to come in and meet with one of their partners with a view to coaching him around his behaviour in the firm. I thought, "no problem".
I then asked why they wanted him to be coached. "Well he has gone through 18 junior lawyers in the last 6 years, and the last one that worked with him almost had a nervous breakdown" was the reply. Mmmmmm the alarm bells went off! This could be a bigger challenge than I thought.
In preparation for my meeting I interviewed a number of people in the firm and they painted a unanimous and unfavourable picture of him. They all said he was the best technical lawyer they had ever seen, however he was the most controlling, impersonal, manipulative and critical person they had ever worked with. The interesting thing is that he was never aggressive, or yelled, or got angry – they said he was very passive, yet he subtly tore away at a person's self worth and confidence. They even told me stories of how people are scared to send printing to the communal printer because he will pick up peoples printing that has nothing to do with him, go in to their office, tell them what is wrong with their work, and then tell them how to fix it.
I thought, "Gee cant wait for this meeting!!!"
I greeted him at the door. We had a very brief conversation about his background and what lead him to the firm. "Seems pleasant enough", I thought.
We sat down and I cut to the chase: "We both know why we are here, it is to discuss the high turnover of staff you have had in your area. I would like to get your take on the situation."
He then proceeded to go through the list of people and tell me what was wrong with "them". The first one was a nut case, the second one was incompetent, and the third one was unstable. On and on he went telling me what was wrong with all these people. I was stunned.
I asked, "If they are all so hopeless why have some of them gone off to flourish in other parts of the firm?" To which he replied, "They aren't going well, the other partners in the firm just say that to keep them happy and to make me look bad. None of these people are a lawyers boot lace."
Part of me was thinking, "has someone had set me up?" as I searched the room for a hidden camera. "Ok, ok, ok! Let me ask you this. What in your behaviour contributed to them not working out?" I was greeted with a stunned look. He said, "I don't understand, I just told you the problem, they were incompetent, if they gave me good lawyers they would stay. What have I got to do with it?"
Getting him to admit his behaviour may have contributed to the situation was like trying to raise the titanic with a dingy.
The most he gave me was he admitted that he does not suffer fools!
I asked him if he wanted to work on his behaviour and do a series of coaching sessions. He agreed. I said the first step is for you to identify a series of key stakeholders in the business to give you feedback on your behaviour. Specifically what you do well and what you need to improve on.
His response was, "No!!"
"No what?" I asked.
No, "I refuse to let anyone give me feedback on my behaviour."
"But you will get to choose who gives you feedback"
"I don't care".
Still reeling I said, "Well how do you expect to be a better leader if you don't ask any of the people you lead about how you can do it better?"
The next line was my favourite. "I am self aware enough to know what I need to improve on and what I don't." At this point I wrapped up the interview and left.
When I walked out I two things screamed out at me:
Number 1. How often do we come into a situation and think "Its not Me, Its You". "I am not the problem, they are the problem". All too often we are blind to how our behaviour impacts on our environment.
Number 2. How very few people actually get honest feedback from their environment about their behaviour. So what we can do to improve it?
In particular this second step is vital. There is wisdom in our environment; not asking for feedback is missing out on a massive opportunity. Also, don't just get feedback from your co-workers, ask your clients as well. Ask them on a regular basis how you can serve them better, what they like about conducting business with you, and what you need to change.
I was recently talking to a CEO of a large company in Australia who said that their US office (during the GFC) told him that they needed to save 3 million dollars in one of their divisions, and this is how many people he needed to sack to save that much money. He asked for the opportunity to find a solution without having to sack anyone. He put it to the team they came up with a strategy, it was implemented and they saved 3.89 million dollars.
Obviously this example of the friendly lawyer I have given you is an extreme one, but how much do we have in common with this lawyer? 67% of leaders in this country rate themselves as good or excellent, however 61% of the people they lead rate them as poor or terrible. In fact 53% of people said they would sack their manager if they could. How we "Show Up" as a leader has a massive impact on our organisation. Gallup showed in a survey of 1 million people that the most common reason people left their last job was because of their direct manager.
My challenge to you is:
1. Stop your natural reaction to say "It's not me it's you". First start with how your behaviour contributed to the situation.
2. Ask your environment for feedback on your behaviour. It doesn't even have to be formal (such as a 360), survey your clients and your co-workers. Ask them what do you do well and how could you change your behaviour to get a better outcome.