Same Problem, Two Ways to Handle It

As a culture consultant and coach, I’m honored to be the outsider who works with leaders to identify behaviors that undermine their business success and team cohesiveness. Usually, an outsider’s perspective is needed when leaders see a problem, but don’t know what to do about it. They want an outside perspective to see what they can’t see because they’re too close to the problem. Usually they are receptive to improving their own leadership. They recognize that how they lead impacts how their employees perform and behave. Note the emphasis on usually.

Except when they’re not receptive

Recently, I was asked to consult with two organizations facing the same challenges…poor communication, unresolved conflicts, and confusion about expectations. Employees reported they didn’t feel safe talking to their leader about problems and concerns. They had past experiences of ideas being discounted and the leader becoming defensive and condescending.

Both leaders of the respective organizations told me, “no one wants to tell me anything; they tell me I’m intimidating.” My job was to find out what leadership behaviors influence employees to feel intimidated and secondly, take that knowledge to help leaders transform their leadership styles. This way the organization can move forward as a cohesive team. Both organizations were on the verge of significant growth and the leaders recognized something needed to change to deal with the anticipated demands of expanded business.

Culture norms stem from leadership behavior

What transpired during the interactions with these two organizations exemplifies the difference between healthy leader behavior and dysfunctional leader behavior. The difference between a leader who is open to feedback vs. one who is skeptical. In both settings, employees courageously and appropriately voiced their concerns with vulnerability. The difference was in the receptivity and response of the leader.

Organization A leader heard the feedback from employees, acknowledged it was tough to hear and said, “Thank you for your honesty. I need to improve so you can be the best you can be, and serve our clients better. I’ll work on these things”.

Organization B leader heard the feedback from employees, made excuses for past behavior, and showed little receptivity to make behavioral changes in leadership style. While the words were said thanking employees for their feedback, the leader did not acknowledge the impact of his/her behavior on employees.

Teams function to the level of the emotional intelligence of their leader

Dan Goleman, PhD, well known researcher on emotional intelligence states, “The rules for work are changing. We’re being judged by a new yard stick: not just on how smart we are, but by how we handle ourselves and each other.”

While it was a sign of emotional intelligence that both leaders asked me for help and feedback from their employees about how they are doing, the difference was in what the leader did with the feedback. Knowledge is one thing, application is another.

Research has shown that a leader’s emotional intelligence, meaning self-awareness, self-management skills and relationships skills, set the norms of how work gets done and how people get along. Specifically, the way a leader handles employees’ emotions shapes the beliefs, behaviors, and practices of how people perform and, ultimately, bottom line results.

As a leader, how receptive are you to an outsider’s perspective? To hearing from your employees how your behavior affects them? Which of the above two examples do you relate to? Healthy leaders welcome growth and address issues that undermine the impact and legacy they want to make. If you’re looking for ways to up level your leadership, give us a call or shoot us an email. We look forward to helping you create healthy norms for your employees and culture.

Bonnie Artman Fox works with senior leaders who want to create healthy work cultures that bring out the best in their employees, attract peak performers, and build cohesive teams. From over 25 years as a Psychiatric Nurse and Marriage & Family Therapist Bonnie applies her expertise to coach and consult with leaders to replace behavioral patterns that sabotage organizational health with positive behaviors that eliminate infighting, office politics, and dysfunction. To learn more or bring Bonnie to your company, click here and let’s talk.

Leave a Comment