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Leadership Realities Part 2

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My journey to save leaders from themselves and eventually from their organizations…

Last month we were looking at Phillip Rigorous who had gotten himself in trouble, found himself sitting in my office and had even managed to alienate Human Resources in the process. Phillip generously provided the straw that broke his boss’s patience with his biased behavior toward a female supervisor who reported to him. If you want to revisit that episode you can click here and catch up with February’s article.

As I mentioned last month, everyone seems to have a problem child or two intent on making the business journey difficult. For a while Phil became mine.

Back to Phil’s story

Near the end of our first meeting, I got the hint through Phil’s seemingly too difficult journey when confronting his behavior with Rachel that, while he agreed to meet with me, he figured that when I heard his convincing story that I would rally to his side. Phil proceeded to tell the other version (his own) in detail and during a good thirty minute explanation of how Rachel had a record for bad behavior, disrespect and general hijinks, I let him talk. As he was winding down I returned to his biased behavior and he deflected to other supervisors and their behavior, the fact that so few were willing to provide feedback and that this was a complete surprise. If you are starting to pick up that maybe Phil wasn’t as surprised as he would have wanted me to believe, I was too. In fact, he came ready with explanations, excuses and deflections that could only have been the product of serious and time consuming thought.

Let’s switch gears for a moment. Over the years I, like you, have heard all the excuses, diversions, deflections, and distortions one man can hear and I have concluded long ago that it is the fault of some human condition that protects us from admitting our own frailty and inadequacies. Deep inside, people are probably saying, “I cannot possibly be the person who did that bad thing because that would make me bad, weak or incapable.” Having so much invested into our own fragile self-esteem and hard work, it seems impossible that we could fall in that hole. The rational answers are much easier. We all fall in holes and, if we don’t, we are probably guilty of not trying hard enough. Someone once told me the smartest thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is to, “Put the shovel down.”

I explained to Phil that his HR person and his superior had come all the way to my office before our first meeting and pleaded with me to take time to work with him. His boss had told me, but I didn’t tell Phil, that this behavioral pattern had gone back over some lengthy period of time and she had tried several time to help by coaching him. Each time Phil would do well for a while and eventually fall back and burden her again with a new episode. The HR person was very candid that the behavior was to the point where she really couldn’t serve Phil as a coach anymore and she noticed the same biases from Phil that he was accused of in their personal interactions.

That first day and after about ninety minutes, I ended the meeting and sent Phil away with a parting thought by saying, “This thing will not go away on its own and will not be explained away to people who know that you are the problem. You can go back, never see me again and there is a chance that this will all blow over. There is also a good chance that a worst case scenario could take up residence with you. That scenario will limit your prospects for future promotion, will bring you lots of stress, impact your relationships with peers and superiors, not to mention HR. And, just to be on the record, rebuilding trust is much harder than losing it.   Phil, you will have to call me if you want to continue to pursue this, then we can set up time at my convenience.”

Phil called back

Sessions two and three were renewed efforts by Phil to convince me that he was the victim. If he could just convince me that there was some conspiracy between the “women” and his peers to “get him”, there may be a chance that I might take up his cause. In session three he shared that he had gone to an “HR Friend” that confirmed that he was the victim and was being unjustly treated. Don’t you just love enabling friends?

359 steps

Endurance counts in this sort of thing and, while three or four hours of push/pushback might seem like a lot to you, the stakes were pretty high and I knew that if I could get Phil to really “get it”, even if it took some time, it would be worth it. Somewhere in session three there was a long pause in Phil’s diatribe as he looked at the pencil and paper in front of him in my office. Phil is a very bright guy. After a long pause Phil asked; “There is no chance that I will convince you, is there?” “Not likely” was my response.

“What shall we do?” Phil asked next.

My response was, “What will it take for you to believe that this is not some conspiracy to get Phil?” We all know that nothing is going to change until Phil owns the solution and also the problem. We were a ways off from that.

Phil’s asked, “What would you do to prove that it is not a conspiracy?”

I responded, “I would run a good hard anonymous 360 degree evaluation with your superiors, subordinates and people who have the most interaction with you.”

“How would you do that?” Asked Phil.

My response was; “We would choose five categories together that impact your effectiveness as a leader and electronically send questions to those three audiences with a place to score you and add anonymous comments regarding your behavior as a leader. All of the results would come directly to my office electronically and be looked at by a single staff member for objective evaluation and recommendation.” I went on to explain that he would never know who scored him as an observer, but would know who the groups were so he could encourage them to be honest in his evaluation and report back to the same group what he learned, planned to do with what he learned, and follow-up for more feedback if they were willing.

Phil was in. Boldly he proclaimed that he would get a fair evaluation that way and within twenty four hours of that meeting we had the questions in Phil’s hands so he could evaluate them, alter or simply approve them.

On a related note. Most of the time when I do this sort of work, people such as Phil tend to wilt over time as the reality of their situation strikes them. In this way endurance is a friend. This journey from emotional high voltage to sadness is something I watch for closely, always trying not to let the person get too amped up or too dark and depressed. Striking that balance is when helping others in this way and knowing when to give encouragement and when to hit someone with a heavy dose of reality is not easy. I watch body language, pace of discussion and mostly eye contact for the clues. The more you do this the easier it is to pick up the signs.

Next month the results are in – I will share the results of Phil’s 360 and how we approached the “bad news.” We created a soft landing from an emotional blow that for any proud leader feels like a place you cannot get back from. I will also share the plan to use resilience to create something that Phil could never have created without this set back.

Thanks for reading and I’ll continue this story in April, so please stay tuned.

Warmest regards,

5 (1)


Ralph Twombly
Priority Learning

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.



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