Red-Faced Rage Monster

Sometimes my coaching clients have an insight that debunks what they previously thought was true.  My client, Jack, for example had a bit of an awakening about how to motivate and inspire his team and influence his functional colleagues.  As a technical director in a medical device company, Jack led a team of engineers and was also responsible for working with both the manufacturing leads and the program managers who interfaced with customers.

At our first meeting, it was obvious that Jack was not excited about being in a leadership development program.  He was annoyed by the leaders in his company, seeing them as incompetent phonies whose main purpose was split between wasting his time and politicking with each other when they weren’t playing golf.   Because of this, Jack had no aspirations for “leadership.”

Jack also believed that he had to be mean and uncompromising to get anything done.  When people pushed him, he shoved back and powered through to get his way.  He was angry and justified his anger by thinking that it came with the territory.  He’s a big guy so I could only imagine what it was like when he lost his temper.

O-kaaay – Jack seemed like a pretty unhappy camper.  Step one was getting rapport.  Luckily I’m good at it.  I just listened. My listening threw him for a loop because he wasn’t used to people sincerely trying to understand him.  When he settled down, I discovered that he actually has lots of joy in his life – just not at work where he has a lot of thinking about how things should be and how people don’t measure up.  He loves working in his huge garden at home and playing with his little kids and his dog.  He loves his wife.  I’m sure everything at home isn’t perfect all the time, but he rides it out and settles down.

I asked him if he honestly thought his way of influencing people was effective.  He smiled.  Then I asked him if he was up for learning something about how humans create our experience of life, how we see ourselves and others, and where our upset feelings really come from.  It occurred to me that it would be helpful for Jack to see that imperfect circumstances and people don’t have the power to make him feel anything.  If he could stop getting into judgmental reactions with people, he would have the mental space and clarity to have more impactful conversations.

To help him see this, I gave Jac a quick explanation of how the mind actually works – Inside-Out.  Because we can’t have a feeling without thought, I explained, people can’t make us feel anything.  Instead, it’s our thinking about them that brings the emotion.  I asked him to test this out between now and our next meeting.

At our next meeting, he was smiling and seemed a little less disgruntled and frustrated.  I asked if he had any insights.  He said “Yeah, I realized that being the Red-Faced Rage Monster isn’t very effective after all.”

We both laughed.  He went on to say that he started noticing that his reactions were caused by a storm of thoughts primarily based on past interactions that had nothing to do with the current situation.  When he was able to ignore that thinking and focus on how to work collaboratively to solve problems, work life got a little easier.  He also got curious about what made sense to his colleagues – why they did what they did, why it made sense to them to act a certain way.  Minus the snarky judgment, there was room for connection and understanding.

Magically, the Red-Faced Rage Monster disappeared.  Poof.

All You Need to Know About Holding People Accountable

Once again, I’m motivated to write a post based on recent coaching conversations. This time, the topic is holding people accountable. A quick internet search found many references to two actions so common-sense it’s hard to believe that it takes someone from The Center for Creative Leadership or The Harvard Business Review to spell them out.

1. Define and clarify roles, goals, and expectations.
How can a leader hold anyone accountable if there isn’t alignment and understanding as to what success looks like? To compound the issue, a leader who sends confused or mixed messages about performance will be contributing to a culture of mistrust, uncertainty, doubt, and fear. So why is getting clarity and alignment about roles and goals so difficult to get right?

Here’s what I’ve heard:

– I thought they understood ….
– We discussed expectations in performance reviews
– We reviewed team goals at the staff meeting
– I sent out an e-mail to the team
– It’s obvious what we need to do to succeed – meet our numbers!
– We don’t have time to _____________________.

The only problem here is the belief that people hear and perceive messages the same way. It’s a common misperception that because we’re in the same situational experience, we all must be experiencing it the same way. In actual fact, we are never having a common situational experience. Ten leaders on a conference call or sitting around a board room table are having 10 different, thought-generated experiences on a continuum of clarity and presence to disengaged and checked out. And, that level of clarity and presence will fluctuate throughout the meeting within each individual.

A leader who understands the inside-out nature of reality in the moment will naturally want to verify and validate what his/her team members are hearing. It won’t make sense to broadcast a one-way message to a distracted team, to assume silence equals agreement, or to believe that sending an e-mail will “make it so.”

Furthermore, a leader who realizes that the frustration s/he feels when communicating current business challenges and expectations is always and only coming from thought in the moment and not the situation or the team’s reactions, will be better able to maintain the presence and connection required for getting alignment and commitment.

2. Provide honest, timely feedback on progress or lack thereof.
I’m beginning to suspect that the current over-emphasis on being politically correct is contributing to a lack of honest conversations about progress on goals and objectives. Some corporate cultures seem to reinforce the old adage “if you can’t say something nice…” sending an implied message that negative/constructive feedback is somehow disrespectful. Isn’t it disrespectful not to be honest with people?

Again, the faulty reasoning that our feelings come from anything other than thought in the moment is at play. Some leaders worry about how critical feedback will be received and from that place of worry and discomfort, they deliver vague, confusing messages about performance – or avoid having the discussion altogether. Others may take poor performance personally and react from feelings of anger and frustration that look absolutely justified when one believes that circumstances cause feelings – and therefore that dire circumstances require “tough talk.”

There are many reasons for lack of progress or poor performance, but there’s only one way to really understand what’s going on. We need to have a connected conversation from a space of mental clarity. And finding this space is not about tips or techniques. Every introductory supervisor training has a module covering performance feedback. There’s no formula for interpersonal effectiveness – it’s about understanding how human beings operate.

The Secret to Holding People Accountable

The key to more effective conversations about performance is realizing two facts:

1. We are all living in separate realities created by thought taking form uniquely in each person, in every moment

2. Our feelings are always and only coming from our thinking and not the circumstances

Each of us is living in an ever-changing world of thought in the moment – from inside of us, not from circumstances or other people. When we realize how the mind works, we don’t waste energy and create noise in the system looking outside of ourselves for the cause of our emotions in the moment. Without that activity, mental clarity is our natural state of mind. From that space, wisdom, common sense, and connection emerge and honest, effective conversations are possible, regardless of the situation.