He Set the Tone; Team Responded

What does someone who leads with an Everything’s Black and White approach usually see from his direct reports? Yep, frustration.

A client of mine knows this about himself and is actively working on his own professional development to overcome the problems that pattern brings on. A very intelligent young man, this executive has an engineering mindset which brings huge value to the organization from a results standpoint. But he’s managing people now, too.

His efficient, curt responses generate misunderstanding. What’s important to him is quality, credibility, accurate data and results. As a leader he is gifted for the strategic focus. Yet when it comes to communicating, he misses the mark with people who aren’t wired the way he is.

Earlier this month he shared a challenge he’s been moderating – a schedule that accomodates several shifts and helps each feel valued. In talking with representatives from each side he ran into problems trying to – as an expert – offer a solution that logically makes sense. Not relating well to the impact it would make on those living with the solution, he demonstrated his lack of sensitivity to the gray area – that area unknown to him.

Fortunately he offered an opportunity for each of the parties to jointly meet for a problem-solving session that he was willing to facilitate. At the time he and I met, this session was a week away. He knew he needed to let them talk things through and capture their thoughts on poster sheets. He knew they were the most qualified to identify what they wanted. He was hoping they could come to conclusions without him.

What my young engineer needed help with was how to set the tone and continue the tone throughout the meeting that would lead to a creative, valuable experience. From his point of view, he was ill-equipped. Yet when I shared some simplistic attitudes to focus on, he was terrified.

There are 3 attitudes that lend to HIGH connectibility between speakers. Enthusiasm, Curiosity and Humility.

Since enthusiasm would miss the mark for a meeting with people nearly at each others’ throats, only curiosity or humility seems appropriate. Our executive has difficulty showing vulnerability, so the attitude he was most intrigued by is curiosity.

In brief, instead of trying to demonstrate his expertise when a problem arises, I suggested he explore further by asking questions of those present. This could help with clarification, with understanding the importance of the focus and with digging deeper to uncover the real issues. Not only would this attitude allow him to act as a facilitator vs. an expert, it would bring the discussion back to the interested parties and allow them to engage in the problem-solving. Otherwise, as a Black and White patterned thinker often does, our young engineer would have stopped conversational flow repeatedly by expertly pointing out all the answers. No creativity would have room in that expert tone. No willingness to listen and share would have been tolerated.

Secondly, he began to recognize that the more willing he was at suggesting his own behaviors were sometimes in error, it allowed others to feel safe in reporting the same way.

What he told me later was, “Before I entered the meeting I kept telling myself – remember curiosity and humility.” It seems he saw it was important to set the tone for himself as well as for the group.

He opened the meeting in this way:

As you know, I wanted to bring us all together to discover ways we can resolve our scheduling issue. You are all much more suited to coming up with the solutions than I am. As you’ve already observed, I am limited in understanding the impact some of my ideas have on others. So I need your help in drawing these conclusions.

I am here to listen, to encourage you to share honestly and respectfully and to embrace any conclusions you draw that seem to respect all present. When it’s appropriate, I will step in. Yet mostly I see it’s important for you each to share and for me to learn from you.

Evidently, this tone created a relaxed atmosphere instead of a contentious one. It allowed him to go through the meeting asking key questions – demonstrating his attitude of curiosity. And one of the most definable moments for him, in his reporting it to me later, was the time he interrupted to say, “That’s what I made a huge mistake about. I apologize for that. I didn’t realize the impact it would have on you.”

He said, “I could feel them shift in their chairs and quietly whisper among themselves. It was obvious to me that they never expected me to be that vulnerable. You were right, Merri. Humility is a huge connector. It led them to a turning point in a later meeting.”

Later on in the week he stood in front of all the employees to announce the solution. After doing so, some loudly criticized him for the solution. At that point, two of the shift representatives from the earlier meeting came to his defense, explaining the rationale behind the decision.

“Wow. They never would have defended me before.” For someone who operates in a Black and White pattern, that was a moment of revelation. His ablity to validate the perspectives of others set an extremely positive tone. As a result, the team responded.

Today, our executive is continuing to observe people and take care to use curiosity in his dealings with them. And sometimes he will even use humility. What a leveling agent. For him, it allowed people to see eye to eye and connect hand to hand.

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On November 19th, 2010, posted in: Uncategorized by