Leading While Naked: Part 6—Oh. THAT Conversation!
July 23, 2012 5 Comments
In his blog series Leading While Naked, Paul Shultz, Slalom Consulting’s Dallas General Manager, reflects on leadership and the lessons found in Patrick Lencioni’s business fable Getting Naked and Charlene Li’s work Open Leadership. As Paul says: “Leading and managing a professional service firm in today’s connected times, with heartfelt attention to the absolute fact that people matter, proves to be a remarkable journey.”
I told her “Stop doing that. You are acting like an amateur. You’re screwing this up! And I am looking bad.”
Well, that’s what my emotional venting side wanted to say. Fortunately, I moved from victim to coach and asked myself (key point: before meeting with her) “what did I really want?” The answer was I wanted her to get out of the details, to quit changing her mind, and to really manage the process with me. She was a tough client and deeply experienced in this kind of stuff. I had a few choices but primarily I knew that conversation had to happen, but how to have it? Not thrilled about the confrontational approach from the past.
Patrick Lencioni gives us a good lesson in a Getting Naked point—tell the kind truth—emphasis on kind first and then truth. Like confronting clients (or really any relation) with difficult messages even when they may not like hearing them; do it recognizing the dignity and the humanity of the client—with kindness, empathy, respect. It’s definitely a confrontational feeling but with caring. Stuff isn’t happening as it should and the course needs to be corrected. The tough part and the ‘art’ part is this dance you have to do—dancing your way through putting the relationship at risk and valuing the truth-telling more than the revenue stream. Naked consultants understand they have a responsibility for being a truth-teller even if they may be sacrificed. Not randomly, not without deep thought, and not without wise counsel but nevertheless, a truth-teller. Yep.
You see it is like ‘a way’—a set of truths so embodied that you walk-your-talk that way. That you come to the conclusion there is no other way. And that this way is the pure way of building lasting relationships.
And yes this one is surely one of the toughest. You know this conversation. Consultants have typically been confrontational, finger pointing, and less than effective in considering the human being across the table from them. So this time, let’s ‘Get Naked’ in conversation.
We spoke. I asked her how she thought things were going. Some short answers, a soliloquy on marketing theories and in the end still convinced she needed to be hands-on in most of the project aspects. So with a detour, I asked her what she wanted…Really where her heart was. As her gaze turned out the window, out came mostly mumblings about being tired and wanting to see the kids more. A fake smile and then she turned toward some more detail work discussion. But I paused her and, seizing on the small opening, I pushed her a bit. “You’re spending so much time in the details and micro-managing of people, we’re missing the great effect you could have by focusing your energy on managing the process. And you are probably wasting time that could be regained and then, maybe you could prioritize things better.” Deep breaths and silence. Eyeball to eyeball. And in a bit, I saw her shoulders visibly settle and drop.
She acknowledged her work style, some lack of confidence, a bit of fear—a conversation we simply had never had. In a place and manner we had never been. You can paint the rest of the story yourself. And you would be right.
What happened? It wasn’t the end, it was the beginning. And we asked each other periodically “what do you want” and that seemed to trigger the better, more ‘Naked’ conversations. Not all roses but certainly fewer thorns.
Funny sorta. Put the dollars in the far background, pay attention to the human in front of you, and follow a few simple principles. Act honestly and prove you are more interested in your client’s success than your own revenue stream.