And very precious energy at that!
It’s amazing how much energy is wasted in the land of leadership. Valuable energy. Yet wasted. Unintended. Irreversible. Leadership potential down the drain.
Leadership competencies don’t grow on trees. They’re acquired. Developed. And tested time and time again. You name it, leadership has been there.
So, why enter the land of blame, defence and attack?
I worked with a client where some peers had become a nightmare. A recent uncontrolled outburst on their side in the presence of a key stakeholder had taken my client completely by surprise. Shock and confusion escorted them from the meeting. A sleepless night of tossing and turning had brought them to their senses.
Something had to be done.
So, on a Wednesday afternoon, I found myself in their corner office. Listening to the litany of the wrong-doers. Weaknesses abounded and resounded from all four walls.
I added fuel to the fire. I held the space. Listening deeply. Refusing to enter their jungle.
When the storm had passed, I asked my client which of the stakeholders was getting to them the most. And as there were apparently a number of candidates, the answer left us waiting for the verdict. But when it came, it came in a clear and icy voice.
Having clarified what position this challenging personality held, I asked my client to name just one or two of their strengths. “Strengths! Strengths! That’s the problem. They don’t have a strength in sight!“
So, I decided to change my tactic. I asked my client to name just one or two of their weaknesses. And like lightening, they came as flashes.
“Arrogant! Pedantic! Opinionated! Confrontational! Intimidating!“
Indicating to my client that I was having a hard time taking notes, they stopped to take a deep breath. “I’m telling you, this cannot continue. This has to stop. They need to change! They need coaching! It’s having a negative impact across the organization. I’m not the only one who is challenged!“
“Arrogant,“ I said. “What exactly do you mean by arrogant?“
“They always have to be right! They insist on doing things their way! And no other way! Confrontation not communcation is the name of their game!“
A battle of strengths was apparently in full swing. Their strengths had taken on a life of their own. Ready. And willing. Unknown to the protagonists. It was high time for the whistle to be blown.
“Could it be that you’re dancing with ’self-assurance’? With someone who is capable of taking risks. Capable of staking claims. And even more to the point: capable of delivering?“
“Could you imagine that they are simply different? Coming from a totally different perspective. A different planet. If you like.“
“Neither good nor bad. Just different.“
“And while you’re there. Could you stretch your imagination. A tiny bit further. And dare entertain the thought that you’re a little bit different too!“
“What do we know? We know that you’re a ’developer’. You see potential. Everyone is a work in progress. So ’self-assurance’ could be very much out of place. Not permitted. Maybe even perceived as ’arrogant’.“
“We also know that you’re a ’strategic thinker’. You play out alternative scenarios. ’What if?’ is the question you ask most. I could imagine ’self-assurance’ feeling very much at ease sitting those questions out.“
Silence had fallen. The quiet after a storm had arrived. An alarm went off to remind us that the session was coming to a close. I inquired when we could continue this exchange. My client took out their diary. I also requested my client to come up with a strengths profile of this particular peer by our next session.
And the outcome? My client has become an expert in strengths profiling. Differences are appreciated. Not abhorred. Holding the space for diverse strengths is now a strategy.
In fact, this client is now coaching their peers in challenging interpersonal situations. Their most powerful question is: “What if this particular behaviour could be interpreted as a strength. What could it be?“
When impatience, irritation and even confusion is slipping into your emotional repertoire, call a halt! Take a time-out. Review your language. In particular the language you are using when talking to yourself about those challenging personalities. Those characteristics which are the very spice in our business lives.
Reinterpretation is called for. People are not bad or good. They’re simply different. Not sharing the same talents. Not sharing the same strengths. Not sharing the same needs. And in the worst case scenario, not sharing the same values. This is life. Day in. Day out.
And the key? Be fully aware of your strengths profile. Be fully aware of the strengths profile of others.
If you can dance with yourself. And your strengths. And admit that this is not always an easy dance. Then you are more than half-way there to dancing with the strengths of others. Something that is a must on the business front. In particular when the music is challenging for both.
The dance starts and ends with strengths profiling. Even when you believe it is impossible!
So, how well-equipped are you for this inevitable dance of strengths?
photograph: © GVS / Fotolia.