(Note: Names and other identifiers were changed to protect the confidentiality of my client.)
When Tom and I met he was a new hire within a large company, and he was desirous of his next big promotion. He wanted to know how to market his unique value to put himself into a strong position for moving up to the next level. Being new to the organization he was not yet acclimated to it, and his first performance review had resulted in somewhat disappointing mixed feedback.
His superiors recognized that he had great potential and was extremely talented. Tom was a hard worker and highly motivated and ambitious. All of his team members appreciated that he was willing to roll up his sleeves and get down in the trenches with them to get the job done. But he had not yet created a high performance team environment, and had not proven himself capable of developing talent by supporting the success of others. He wasn’t at ease communicating with his superiors, especially those he was hoping to persuade and influence in order to gain his promotion. Whenever he found himself in a high level meeting he struggled to maintain his poise, and if he had to make a presentation he become nervous and uncomfortable.
Tom was so intent on getting promoted that he seemed to be looking out only for himself and believing that it was all about him, not them. If he became irritated with his team or with the senior members of other teams within the organization he wore that emotion on his sleeve. His communication style was reactive and his body language was defensive. Tom’s non-verbal messages were becoming an obstacle to his success and a source of stress in his department, but he had no idea what to do to change his ways.
As I began to coach him I realized that Tom had not completely understood or embraced his company’s culture and didn’t really know how to successfully navigate the corporate game. He needed to learn how to cultivate a team of winners that could move forward with a clear, cohesive, shared vision. But up until that time his teams had been fragmented and disjointed. They lacked synergy and focus, and this reflected poorly on Tom because he was supposed to be their leader.
I quickly took him under my wing and gave him the lay of the land. We worked on different methods of improving team spirit so that everyone felt that Tom was listening to them and recognized each and every one of them for their individual contributions.
To help him learn a new management style we frequently role-played scenarios based on actual experiences he was having in the workplace. We would practice various approaches to handling difficult or negative team players, for example, and I showed him techniques for shifting a person’s energy to inspire a more positive attitude and outcome. As he began to implement those strategies the morale of his teams improved and their level of performance was heightened in measureable ways. They felt a greater sense of value and this translated into a more valuable team contribution to the organization.
Tom and I also explored the issue of how to have important but potentially sensitive developmental conversations with his team members. He learned new ways to give them candid feedback without discouraging them. Instead of showing frustration as he had done in the past he began to be more of an active listener, mentor, and team coach. The interpersonal dynamic shifted and he became the champion of each member of his team. They could see the changes that Tom had made, and that motivated them to follow his example and ask him for help with their own struggles and issues. As he shared stories about acknowledging and overcoming his own challenges Tom began to emerge as a more naturally inspiring leader.
We then started working on specific techniques of influential verbal and non-verbal communication skills that would prepare Tom for his upcoming high-level meeting and next performance review. I created scripts we could role play so that he could practice handling unexpected questions and challenging discussions without losing his confidence and poise. He did his homework to develop an innovative plan to overcome negative sales trends and generate greater revenues. He prepared himself for surprise visits from his superiors so that instead of being flustered in their presence he could use those opportunities to sell himself up the corporate ladder.
But Tom promoted himself in the organization by emphasizing the accomplishments of people on his team and highlighting their own development and achievement. He had personally taken ownership of his shortcomings and was working on his management skills to become a more effective and inspiring leader, and it showed. In fact, Tom soon started to get the top performance results in the region. He had worked hard to develop his high potential stars, build a dynamic performance team, and cultivate a more confident leadership presence while managing his own stress in healthy ways.
Less than a year into our collaboration a new position opened up within the company at a higher level. The top HR executive paid a personal visit to Tom and asked him to please accept the opportunity and prized promotion.
He said he was the invisible person in the room, unable to get his contributions noticed and his ideas appreciated. Bob had difficulty being assertive and felt a total lack of visibility. He sensed that his career was being sidelined, while others around him made rapid advancement.
That left him feeling less confident, which only made matters worse. After all, today’s competitive business arena typically rewards those who aren’t shy about promoting themselves and who show no lack of confidence at the conference table.
“When your own boss doesn’t believe in you,” Bob explained to me, “it’s not that easy to continue to believe in yourself.”