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Ingrid Martine and Rick Maurer - The Un-Game Book Interview

Bully, Wimp, or Neither?

Un-Game Principle: If you can’t make distinctions, you cannot act powerfully on behalf of your intention to be a visionary leader, an effective manager or an effective communicator.

A CEO client of mine called me to prepare for a “difficult” conversation with his team. He and they had participated in a workshop I designed for them on the hidden drivers of performance excellence. The hidden drivers had included a segment on conversations that produce effective action. We routinely engage in those conversations, but often do so unconsciously and therefore ineffectively. The CEO and his team had learned the linguistic distinctions of requests, promises, assertions, declarations, and assessments as well as the language moves that are the glue that hold a conversation for action together: making requests, promises, and offers; accepting or declining a request; making a counter-offer; revoking a promise; committing to commit later, distinguishing grounded assessments from ungrounded ones, and so on.

In giving the team their workshop evaluation to complete, I had set it up as yet another learning instrument to deepen the skills and the distinctions they had learned. They had accepted my request to return the evaluation by a certain date (They could have declined or counter-offered, but they didn’t.).

The date of the fulfillment of the promise came and went. Half of the team broke their promise. My client was irritated with these team members and wanted coaching for the ensuing conversation he would have with his team.

I asked him what he wanted to achieve in the conversation and what role he envisioned for himself . . . judge or coach. He wanted to be in the space of ‘coach.’ He has a self-acknowledged history of alternating between coming down hard on his team and of letting things go that he wishes he hadn’t let go. Being ‘coach’ with his team aligns with his intentions to be an effective manager and a visionary leader.

With some good coaching questions, my client became clearer on the pitfalls of judging although judging was like a second skin to him. “Isn’t that my job?” he thought.

It  IS part of his job. However, judging people’s behavior and their emotional intelligence  is different from judging their technical skill, for example their ability and role in designing a new product. Technical skills are measurable; the achievement of a goal verifiable. No slippery slope in this domain.

Judging others’ actions, however, usually sets everyone up to lose. Justification and rationalization abound, and one quickly can enter a quagmire from which it is difficult to emerge. It’s best to stick to the facts, namely that which is verifiable: the broken promise.

The CEO as ‘coach’ wants to change his corporate culture to a learning culture. With the ‘judge’ he takes a step backwards from his deeply desired goal. His team will defer to him on any judgment even if someone respectfully disagrees (perhaps, someone will, but s/he is not yet likely to persevere; the learning culture is still fragile).

The team loses because a judging environment is neither safe nor challenging for learning anything except self-protection. It’s hard to ask questions, offer a new understanding, be confused, and think out loud in an environment where one is judged by another, especially a judge with greater positional power than yourself.

With a clear perspective of ‘coach’, the CEO can assume that he doesn’t know everything. Ah, what a relief! In fact, all he has to know is to ask good questions and then listen and clarify what he heard. Perhaps the evaluations were sent but not received, and there were no broken promises at all.

Let’s assume there was in fact a broken promise. The CEO doesn’t have to judge the “reasons why the evaluations were not done ” as valid or invalid. It happened. Period. Now what can be learned from this? Anything else will merely distract.

There’s a saying that guides me: “In life, you either have the results you want or all the reasons why not.” The promise some of the team members broke did not seriously affect the business outcomes in the short run. They presented an opportunity to learn to produce effective action, the learning of which will affect business outcomes in the long run.

In the space of ‘coach’, the CEO can get into an inquiring mode whose purpose is shared understanding. He can ask the team members what they could have done to avert breaking a promise (this would deepen the learnings from the workshop). He could ask about the effects of broken promises, and what’s necessary to clean them up. He could ask what they could have done differently. And what they will do in a future, similar situation. He could ask them whether they’d like to make a new promise, and what that would be. He could help them link it to their own clients who sometimes irritate them with broken promises. What is it like to see that they engage in the same behaviors they complain about in their clients? Might this make them more compassionate and better in dealing with their clients? The list goes on.

In other words, the CEO could have a very rich learning conversation whose message is very different from the message the ‘judge’ would have sent. The ‘judge’ could easily have fallen into the “I’m right/You’re wrong” trap, which can quickly lead to acting the bully or the wimp. He could deftly back away from the trap. He could simply decide and practice being ‘coach’ and take a giant leap toward creating the learning culture that would make his life so much easier, so much more engaging, and so much more rewarding.

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