Have you ever been in this conversation as either the boss or the employee?
Boss: Jane, your team’s work assignment was due yesterday.
Jane: I know. I’m stuck. There are so many decisions to be made and I didn’t know what to do.
Boss: Jane, I’m really disappointed. I’m going to give the assignment to someone else. I don’t appreciate that you let it go to the last minute. It’s obvious that you can’t be trusted with this kind of work.
This is a command and control type of boss. He (perhaps she) is more interested in getting the task done than growing Jane. He’s so unapproachable that the last thing Jane wants to do is come asking for help. So she puts it off until it’s too late. Her amygdala (center part of the limbic brain) has hijacked her behavior and she’s not thinking creatively or expansively. Now she’s in a worse position and will probably wind up quitting, creating the cost of replacement (2-3 times her salary) and slowdown of her share of the company’s goals. Worse, she could stay and just be disengaged, keeping her head down, doing the minimum and not taking any risks. With unemployment so low (3.5%), she has more options in finding a new job than her company has in finding a new hire. This is how a bad manager costs the company a lot of money.
Here’s a better manager (as coach) conversation:
Boss: Jane, how is your team’s work assignment coming along?
Jane: I know it’s due next week. I’m stuck. There are so many decisions to be made and I don’t know what to do.
Boss: I wouldn’t have given it to you if I didn’t think you were up to it. That being said, there are a lot of decisions to be made. And it can seem overwhelming if you’re not used to it. What do you think is the first thing that you should address?
Jane: Well, I think if we did xxxx first it would give a framework for the rest of the project.
Boss: And what would be the impact of that?
Jane: Maybe some other things might fall in line and become easier.
Boss: Go give that a try and let’s talk tomorrow.
The next day:
Boss: How did it go?
Jane: I did xxxx and it seemed to go well with the team until John said yyyy. Then things came to a standstill. I’m not sure if what John presented is a real obstacle or if John just wants to be negative.
Boss: How could you find out?
Jane: I could get some data from other team members. And I think I’ll ask John, too, what he meant.
Boss: What makes you think he was being negative?
Jane: It was the tone of his voice, or maybe I was reading something into it. I don’t know.
Boss: Since you’re John’s supervisor, what is it that you want for him? How will that frame how you talk with him?
Jane: I want to empower him and have him grow in his job. I’ll ask him questions like you’re asking me questions. Maybe he found out something very valuable. Or maybe he’ll discover his own negativity doesn’t help the team. Thanks for the clarity.
In this conversation the boss takes the time to ask Jane questions which allows her to think through the situations she’s facing. The empathy of the boss and the trust Jane has in the safety of the collaborative situation allow her to use the pre-frontal cortex part of her brain where wisdom, creativity and higher thought functions reside. Jane is learning how to make decisions and she has a better handle on how to structure her work. She’ll need less coaching in the future. She’s verbalized her goals for John so they are top of mind. She’s less likely to approach him with a cortisol-infused brain (fearful and self-protective) and more likely to approach him with an oxytocin-infused brain (objective, caring and curious). The boss has modeled for Jane and now Jane can use the same questioning style that she experienced. In this way coaching can permeate a culture, and one good boss can have a very positive impact through many layers of the organization, bringing additional profits to the bottom line.
If you would like to have your mangers trained in being better coaches (with some bottom-line impact), or if you yourself would like this training (to get your next promotion faster), then let’s talk. Either reply to this email or select a time on my calendar. https://calendly.com/drivingimprovedresults/60min