Category Archives: Coaching
We often live out the pattern graphed above–at least I do, and many of my coaching clients and MBA students do as well. If our initial attempts are unsuccessful when advocating for (or against) a position or when seeking to influence others to do (or not do) something, we’d like to steadily and evenly escalate our assertiveness and emotional expressiveness as time progresses (i.e. the dotted blue line).
What we actually do can look quite different. Early in the process we tend to underdo it–we do escalate, but verrrrrrrrry slowly. “That’s OK,” we say, “it’s not that big a deal”–even as our frustration builds. But eventually a switch gets flipped, and our levels of assertiveness and expressiveness increase much more rapidly. Soon we’re overdoing it; we’re unable to control our frustration, and we act too assertively–even aggressively–and we say or do things we later regret (i.e. the solid red line).
So if we do see our own experience reflected in this graph, how can we make sense of what’s happening?
The more I work with senior leaders, the more convinced I am that there are just three critical leadership tasks. They’re very simple to understand and tremendously difficult to do:
1. Set our priorities.
Don’t let them be set for us by others, by circumstances or by our Inbox. And the more senior we are, the more latitude and choice we have, the more we need to rely on our judgment and intuition. This requires being open to influence while resisting advocacy, being attuned to the data while knowing when to ignore it and take a calculated risk.
Last night I facilitated a workshop on Startup Communication at Bloomberg’s San Francisco offices aimed at helping co-founders 1) communicate more effectively with each other, 2) establish group norms in the company that support better communication and 3) model better communication with their employees.
Duff McDonald’s new book, The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business, discusses the management consulting firm founded by James “Mac” McKinsey in 1926, which a number of my MBA students at Stanford have joined over the years.
I haven’t yet read the book, although I’ve seen a number of reviews, including one in the Wall Street Journal just a few days ago. But the commentary that I found most interesting was a letter to the Journal by Bob Wittebort of Chicago:
Stewart Pinkerton’s Sept. 7 review of Duff McDonald’s “The Firm” refers to “Mac” McKinsey’s controversial engagement with Marshall Field & Co. in the late 1930s, during which he was elected chairman of the board and vested with broad executive power. He wielded that power ruthlessly and, many thought, without respect for the long-settled “Field way.” In their history of Marshall Field, Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan poignantly describe the lesson McKinsey himself drew from the experience: “McKinsey was informed that unless he changed his management tactics dramatically, his resignation would be demanded at the end of the year. Two weeks later, McKinsey was critically ill with pneumonia at Woodlawn Hospital. To his friend James Margeson, who called at his bedside, he observed, ‘Jim, never in my whole life before did I know how much more difficult it is to make business decisions myself than merely advising others what to do in their businesses, without having to take the final responsibility myself.’ The following day he was dead.” The very best consultants share this wisdom; indeed, it might be what makes them the very best consultants. [Emphasis mine]
Tomorrow the new school year begins in earnest for me at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where I’ve been an Instructor and Leadership Coach since 2007 and where I was an MBA student myself 15 years ago. This past year has been full of lows and highs for me, ranging from a painful back injury to a book and a brand-new blog, so tomorrow’s milestone is prompting me to step back and think about what I appreciate about Stanford right now and my hopes for the coming year.
I’m keenly aware of what a privilege it is to have such talented and dedicated students. I’ve worked in some capacity with roughly 1,000 Stanford MBAs over the years, and I can count on one hand those who I’m reluctant to think of as my fellow alumni. I’m not suggesting that our students are candidates for sainthood–they’re young people who can lack perspective, make questionable choices, and spend way too much time on elaborate social activities, as young people do. (I sure did.)
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. Genesis 46:3 NIV
Jacob was obedient to God because he shifted from fear to faith.
A Stanford MBA I know who’s managing at a large tech company wants to encourage her team to give and receive feedback more effectively, and she asked for my advice.
Leaders need to bear in mind four principles when it comes to promoting feedback (and better communication in general):