When it's Time to Part Ways, the Learning Can Begin

Organizations are always in a state of change and movement. Rightfully so. Whether it be growth of existing lines of business, entrance into new lines of business, or closing down business units because they are not contributing to the bottom line. This is all a good thing! Organizations who remain stagnate and in one place, don’t remain there for long.

When we consider the people factor in this equation, organizations must consider: Do we have the right type of individuals at any given point in time? Do we have enough Builders? Do we have enough Maintainers/ Stewards? Are they each in the right roles to take us to where the organization needs to go?

As is the case, in a time of growth or transformation the skill-set required may be quite different. As much as one would want to believe that people can adapt, often they can’t. In fact the “New World” may look very different and scary to certain employees – regardless of their role in the company. To some, they jump in and take on the challenges and grow. To others, as adaptable as they may think they are, they come to realize that they are not, and they consider parting ways with the company.

Then there is the third group. The group of people who are not as adaptable, yet DON’T realize they aren’t. Other looking in can see can see by their actions and behaviours that they are simply not cutting it!

Let’s look a little closer at this group - not the entire group, but the Senior Leaders within this group.

As Senior Leaders we need to be hyper-aware of our own strengths and weaknesses; we need to be aware of our direct reports strengths and weaknesses and then how to coach them appropriately. We also need to have a very good sense of the overall skill-set in our own operational group – sales people, support staff, etc. so that when we are asked - “How are you meeting this year’s objectives?”, we can answer in the most constructive and effective manner. This is a tall order, but that is why you carry the Senior Title! The balancing act between being strategic when needed, tactical when addressing chaos and immediate fires and the ability to be a calm, supportive and a directive leader when the waters are disruptive and you have people looking for your direction is quite the job description.

About one year ago I ran into a President of a very large company at a function, that I knew through my network and we were talking about the recent organizational changes that had just transpired at his company. He talked about the direction they had to go and why the re-organization happened. Then upon reflection, as I shared with him some great Leadership Development and Coaching our firm had recently completed and were currently involved in, he suggested I go visit 3 of his VPs. Specifically, he then added that 2 of the VPs could use my help as he said that one “was new to his senior role, and could do with some coaching” and the other had a “challenging group of eclectic direct reports.”

So, off I went, by sending each of them an email, letting them know that their president had suggested I speak to them. Of the three, only one quickly responded. We made a lunch appointment and discussed the recent changes, the impact on her team, how her area would now work with the others, etc. Sure enough, it sounded every much, like the president had mentioned – this group was working well and was adapting to the change.

The next two VPs were not as quick to return my emails. I then proceeded to call them both directly while trying to be politically correct, and subtly, encourage them to meet with me to talk about the new environment they were now within versus coming at them like a MAC because their boss told me to reach out! After several months and several different approaches I finally did meet with each of them. In preparation for my meetings, I called a few of their direct reports to ask them how they thought the changes were being accepted. We discussed environment, management style, clarity of vision, and confidence with their new leader so that I was best prepared with at least their version of reality.

Much to my surprise the Senior Leader who I had been told was new, did not see that he needed any assistance with his new role. He was now a VP! I shared with him that our Executive Coach was seasoned, and could really be that sounding board that was external to the C Suite he reported to and could really help with him understanding his new role. He didn’t see what his President saw as his shortcomings. He didn’t see how his actions were being perceived by his direct reports. The meeting in his eyes was a courtesy call. If his president called, he could acknowledge that yes, he had met with me.

Now the other VP, when we finally did meet, seemed to be more interested than the second with what we had to offer when we started discussing some of the challenges he was facing. He even acknowledged that he did have a very diverse group of direct reports that often fought – and he saw that as being the result of very competitive people being on the same team. He even acknowledged that his team had already taken similar Leadership Development programs, but they did not seem to have made a difference. This VP seemed to have a better perspective on who he was dealing with, but did not seem to have any sense of urgency that he should address the shortcomings. They were who they were.

Of course I was disappointed, as the thought of working with these two VPs and their teams sounded very interesting. It was within an industry that I found fascinating. It was an exciting time of change where, when progress was made, it would have been a proud moment to say I was able to share in making that happen. However, the meetings ended with nothing more than my affirmation that yes, what the President had seen, was real, but that there was not enough self- awareness or urgency that changes needed to be made. Needless to say, the next time I ran into the President he asked me if I had seen his team and had they engaged us, and I said, no it was felt there was no need – everything was under control.

Fast forward one year later, and the Company parted ways with the VPs. Both VPs felt they were blindsided. It was felt they neither one could take their team in the direction that was needed. Sadly this happens often. Could this have been avoided? Could the team and VP had been in a different position a year later?

As senior leaders we must remember:

  1. Just because you’ve taken the course, does not mean you’ve mastered it! We can all learn something new, and improve our approach and our style, by being aware, asking for feedback, and simply being agile enough to make changes and not accept "eclectic and challenging" as acceptable adjectives to how our teams are described. This should be a warning bell!

  2. Just because, your team took the course, does not mean that they can’t take it again! We all know that when we read a book for the second time, we learn and acknowledge different parts of the book. Further, we know that in order for something to sink in, we often have to learn it 3 times, and possibly through 3 different methods. Your realization that your team and direct reports need further development and coaching is a great sign of leadership!

  3. If your boss asks you to meet with someone – he/ she must have had a good reason to suggest it! Ask why and go to the meeting! Get feedback!

  4. Whether you are new to the Functional Area as a Senior Leader or a new Senior Leader, embrace that you can always become a better leader! You can learn from your peers, from mentors and often from how your direct reports react to your behaviours and actions – or lack thereof.

  5. When there is a new Sheriff in town, expect change, expect to feel uncomfortable, expect to feel unsure, and then use that to propel yourself to the next level. These feelings are natural – even at the senior level. You simply must heighten your awareness of what you have to offer and ask yourself - are you heading in the direction your new leader needs you to be going? You should really know the answer to this for sake of your own career!

Every Organization is constantly evolving – looking to establish itself as its own Version 2.0. Every employee, including senior leaders, must be constantly evolving to become either own Version 2.0. This must happen if personal and organizational success is to be achieved. Ask yourself at least every few weeks, what am I doing to improve myself and the organization? If you don’t have an answer, you should be concerned. It may be time to part ways. It may be time to acknowledge that you are no longer a fit, if you really do not plan to adapt, improve and move forward. If, not, someone else may decide that for you, and then you will be caught off guard.

Now with Halloween coming up at the end of the month, I would not want to think that if you were to receive call from me, and I tell you, your boss sent me that I am looked upon as the Grim Reaper! Instead, embrace the idea that if someone wants to talk to you or give you feedback – regardless of who sent them – perhaps they see something that you don’t. Perhaps they see something than when shared can provide the understanding that you need, that sometimes is difficult to find when you are in the thick of on a daily basis.

Listen for opportunity, not to defend and you may then find the clarity you seek to take yourself and the company to that next level.  Take a look – that clarity may have always been right in front of you. 

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