Love, Part 3: “This isn’t for you”

I’ve written about Pat Lencioni’s books before.  Really good stuff.  Weighted heavily towards the so-called soft stuff.  The same stuff, I believe, that creates separation from the pack and great companies.  I bring him up because the last two posts about “love” in the workplace or “love” as a leader remind me of a story he tells.  I think its a good illustration of what I tried to convey in Part 2

Pat’s POV — January 2014
When Meg Whitman Loved Me

No, this is not a tabloid headline. It’s a true story, and not a steamy one.

It was more than twenty years ago, long before Meg Whitman became the CEO of Hewlett–Packard, or candidate for governor of California, or CEO of eBay. I was just out of college in my first job as a research analyst for the management consulting firm, Bain & Company, and she was the lead partner on one of the projects I was working on, which made her something of my boss.
As a senior in college, I had decided that management consulting sounded really interesting. Management had always fascinated me, and being a consultant seemed like a wonderful way to help people. It was a perfect fit. So I applied for one of the most coveted jobs available to me and my classmates, and somehow was hired.

After about eighteen months on the job, Meg invited me to her office for a meeting. She said something pretty close to this: “Pat, I think you’d be a really good partner some day, but I don’t think you’re a great analyst.” Meg wasn’t one for fluffy conversation or saying things she didn’t mean. I knew that she was being sincere about both of her comments, and while I was simultaneously flattered and wounded, I was a lot more wounded. But I had to confront the fact that in the competitive world of big consulting firms, I was not on the fast track, and needed to find a new track.

Looking back and understanding my Myers–Briggs and DiSC profiles, I can see that I was never cut out to be a research analyst (I’m an ENFP and a high I and high D). My attraction to management consulting had to do with the work that partners did, but the only way to rise to that level in a big firm was to be better at quantitative analysis and number crunching than my peers. Meg made clear what I already knew, even if I didn’t want to admit it: I wasn’t ever going to love or be good at that kind of work.

I won’t say that I took the news easily. I certainly didn’t stand up and hug Meg (I don’t remember her being a big hugger). I probably agreed with her assessment a little sheepishly, and slinked back to my cube to begin pondering the future of my career (which would eventually take a new turn that has been a great blessing in my life). As I look back at that moment today, I realize it may have been the kindest thing anyone did for me in my career.

Let me be clear. I’m sure that Meg didn’t particularly enjoy having that conversation with me. But she did it anyway. She was gracious enough, direct, and most important of all, honest. And that’s a form of love. Love is not an emotion; it is a verb. What Meg did is take responsibility for helping me, regardless of whether she felt like it or how it would make me feel about her.

More leaders need to understand the power of honest feedback, because they would better serve their organizations and the people who work there. Keeping people in jobs or situations that are not suited to them is almost never an act of kindness, even when intentions are good. In most cases, it only prolongs suffering and prevents the pursuit of a better life. That’s not an argument for abruptly dismissing people who need to move on, but rather an invitation to have difficult conversations that give them clarity early and help them begin to take responsibility for their own success.

Ultimately, kind but direct feedback reduces the number of painful and expensive surprises that too often result in lawsuits for companies and personal scars for employees. If this seems like a simple message, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, this kind of love is all too rare.

So here’s to loving our people enough not just to hug them, but to tell them the kind truth. And here’s to Meg (I promise not to hug you).

Yours,
Pat Lencioni

You can read/follow Pat on his website here: https://www.tablegroup.com/pat/povs/

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Love, Part 2: Wuv, Twooo Wuv

princess bride marriage love

In my last post, I talked about how important it is for leaders to not allow a void of communication to be created.  I want to drill down a bit on this with what and how we fill that void. I certainly didn’t intend to say in part 1 that we should only praise or shower people with love. What I believe is that we, as leaders, need to communicate honestly, clearly, directly, and … kindly. Depending on the employee’s performance, those conversations can be threatening, rewarding, or stabilizing.

“Tough Love” is really a misnomer.

If you really care about the individual as a person and you see him/her as a human being with hopes, dreams, fears, and responsibilities every bit as important as your own, you see beyond the job or task they may be failing at.  You see them and their happiness.  Nobody is going to thrive, over time, if they’re in a job that’s a poor fit with their strengths, values, and/or desires.

Here’s a real-life example (some details have been ‘vagued’ out to protect the innocent) …

“It’s evident to me that you’re unhappy here.  I say that because I’ve observed that in your demeanor but I also have some new concerns about the work you’re doing (Here’s what I’ve observed: X, Y, and Z).  Job satisfaction and job performance are usually pretty connected so I’m not surprised to see things that concern me on both fronts at the same time.  Life’s too short to spend most of your waking hours doing something you’re unhappy about or find unfulfilling.  If this is something you really want to do, then I will do everything within my power to help you be successful at it.  What are your thoughts?

[Whoa.  Do I answer him honestly?  He’s not attacking me, but he’s also forcing me to deal with the issues that I’ve been trying to avoid.  Do I answer him honestly?]  

I think the answer to that question, Do I answer him honestly?, depends a lot on your intent as a leader.  If your intent is to “performance manage out” this problem child, that will come across.  You may not think so, but sincerity is something that is really hard to fake.  If someone is being genuine with us we can generally tell, can’t we?  It’s a feeling we get.  Let’s continue with the feedback conversation:

In order for you to really be successful here, though, I’ve got to see the following changes (1, 2, 3).  Here’s the thing, I want two things.  I want you to be happy and I want you to be happy here.  And, because that’s what I want, I’ll do everything I can to help you be successful.  I’ll be more clear about my expectations.  I’ll follow up with you about your progress and I’ll listen to your concerns.  I won’t hold back my opinions.  IF, however, you disagree with my concerns and counsel and therefore disregard it, I can pretty much guarantee we’ll be having a difficult discussion like this again very soon.

The choice is completely yours.

To me, that conversation shows true love (twooo wuv as he says in Princess Bride).  We’re deceiving ourselves when we avoid the honest and direct conversations with employees.  We’re not being more kind.  We’re not doing them any favors.  We’re actually doing more harm than good.

The longer you wait, the harder the conversation becomes.

Don’t wait.  If you make it a common practice to give direct, corrective feedback as close to the issue as you can, you bring clarity to your team and you avoid mole hills turning into mountains.  Show the love.  Don’t wait.  Tweasure your wuv.