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Help team member understand and confront blind spot

Coach's Corner--September 29, 2008

The Client
Name: Chris
Age: 55
Title: Vice President, Operations
Time at organization: 14 years 
Industry: Health care
Issue: Getting through to a team member
Q. A member of my leadership team has great technical talents and industry knowledge but comes up short on interpersonal skills. He’s one of our high-potential people, but he will likely miss the cut unless he learns to interact effectively. However, he doesn’t think there’s a problem. How can we get through to him?

A. Even very talented people can have career-limiting blind spots. Understanding the sources and confronting the issues will help open his eyes. Only after that will he be able to grow.

The inner game
What enables this behavior? Look at your profession and your organization. If technical knowledge is rewarded over the human side of leadership, this shouldn’t be a surprising outcome. Some organizations are conflict-averse and won’t provide clear feedback on low performance. Past rewards, including promotions, may have overlooked these underperforming aspects. These dynamics reinforce unproductive behavior.

Look at yourself, too. Assess whether you provide an example of appropriate behavior and are direct enough with those who need to improve. Determine your own barriers to giving the required feedback. If necessary, learn more about communication styles or confront your fears about telling someone they fall short.

Look into what makes him tick. What catches his attention? When is he most receptive to others? What causes him to shut down?

These steps are not intended to let your employee off the hook.  The goal is to give you material to penetrate his resistance to seeing his development needs.

The outer game
First, decide who’ll work with the employee — you, an internal resource such as HR, or an outside coach. There are advantages to each, which you can use to design an approach that will build trust. Discuss the options with your employee, if appropriate. If you choose a coach or internal resource, establish clear guidelines about confidentiality and your expectations.

Gather a rich set of feedback; data may help open his eyes. Consider using an emotional intelligence assessment, particularly one that includes responses from others who know the employee. Have conversations with his peers and direct reports to get more in-depth information. Observe the employee in meetings, noting his interaction style and the dynamics of the group.

Analyze the feedback, preparing a list of specific behaviors that hold him back and identifying the changes that are essential. Discuss the feedback with him, being sure to maintain any confidentiality you promised your sources. Set the stage by stating the company’s commitment to his success. Focus on specific behaviors and their effects on others. Ask him to help assess his development needs.

Be ready for some resistance. Probe the reasons that he disagrees with the feedback. Remind him that these are perspectives from others who are invested in his success. Be willing to be blunt. And, make it clear that, if he doesn’t choose to acknowledge the issues, there will be consequences, such as limits on future advancement. Reiterate his value and the company’s hopes for his future.

The last word
It’s your responsibility to develop your company’s leaders, which requires clear and direct feedback. The employee also needs to step up. Once he accepts the need for change you’ll be able to move forward for your mutual benefit.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted September 29, 2008
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