Remember What You Ask For

Good day team,
This week’s challenge is about remembering what you asked for and staying true to what’s most important.

Here’s a story that illustrates how easy it is to drift away from core values.

In my first meeting with a prospective client, I often ask these three questions:
1.  What’s your vision for what you want to achieve?
2.  What lessons have you learned from past experiences that prevented you from achieving a vision?
3.   How do you think a coach can help you realize your vision?

The answers to these questions set the foundation of our relationship. They are typically very positive and full of optimism:
“I want to create a profitable company that provides good jobs for others and has a positive impact on the world.”
“I see a team of people who are creating new processes that make our jobs easier to do and the team is happier because of the improvements we’ve made.”
“I want to create a company that is highly innovative – where creativity and new ways of thinking are encouraged in everything we do.”
“I want my employees to feel empowered, come to work everyday because they love what they do, and feel passionate about our products and customers.”
“I want to lead my people but not micromanage them so they continue to feel like we’re in partnership and able to take ownership at the same time.”

We build plans based upon their answers and begin a program of coaching and training to create the kind of environment that makes their visions achievable. This works well until my client starts to veer away from the original ask.

Here’s an example.

Bill is the CEO of a start-up company.  He left his job as the lead software engineer and started his own company to get out from under a boss that was too demanding and controlling.  He dreamed of creating a company where he could hire a team of smart people who wanted to work collaboratively and loved to be challenged.  He came up with a brilliant design for a new product, created a business plan for his start-up and sold the whole idea to some investors. Bingo – Bill had a small office, two partners from his previous company, and enough money in the bank to get his product launched.

The first six months Bill was in business he decided to hire me to help him navigate the tough waters of creating a new business. We worked to articulate a core set of values that would help Bill lead the team , stay true to what was important to them, and put their values into action.  We did exercises that helped the team understand one other’s behaviors and strengths, and provided tools that could aid them in their collaborative efforts. As his brand began to develop, we made sure that his vision and values were expressed in all corporate communications – both internal and external.   It was a strong start –  the product was getting a great response from the public, the team was happy and highly committed, and Bill was living his dream.  Year one passed with flying colors – happy team members – happy investors – happy Bill.

Into the second year, given the pressures of running a new business, things began to change.  People worked harder and harder and stress levels rose.  Under stress, team members spent more time in their back-up behaviors, attacking others and defending themselves rather than collaborating. In a frantic effort to keep up, Bill began to take more control of the day-to-day operations afraid that if he didn’t, the whole thing would crash and burn. He unleashed the autocrat within.  He placed more demands on those around him, trusted his teammates less and began to micromanage the entire operation. As his coach, I tried to point out that things were out of control. His behavior ran counter to his expressed values. “I’d like to stay true to my vision and values, said Bill. But honestly, I don’t have time to think about those things right now.  I’m the CEO of a start-up and this business is blowing way past any of our original expectations – it’s all I can do to just keep up.”

So, how could I help Bill?  How could I help get him back on track?

I asked Bill for a time out. This wasn’t easy for him to do, since he was moving at break-neck speed to keep up with his daily challenges. He was now so involved in other people’s jobs, that he had no time stop and reflect. He was CEO, chief product office, and the head of sales, etc. I needed Bill to step back and re-examine what he intended for his company. Was his behavior reflective of his company’s values? And, most importantly, did Bill see what was being sacrificed in his attempts to have a successful company?

Bill needed to make a choice. He couldn’t go north and south at the same time.  He couldn’t take more and more control and become more dominant if he wanted his people to feel empowered.  He wouldn’t be able to have a highly successful team if the customers and investors saw Bill as a success but not the team. As one of his original partners said to me, “I’m not Bill’s partner anymore – I’m an order taker.”

Fortunately, Bill was able to stop long enough to hear me and his original partners early one Saturday morning over breakfast. Underneath it all, he knew that he was spinning out of control. He had the best of intentions but he wasn’t the kind of owner, CEO and business partner he had originally intended to be. With the help of his original two partners, he was able to ease up on the reins. He stopped dictating, asked more questions and fostered more dialogue.  Even more impressively, he let the investors know that he was not willing to sacrifice the core values of his business in order to meet their short term expectations. He re-committed to the original core values to create a more sustainable environment for the team in the long run. As he said to me, “I was killing the spirit in the place and until I stopped, I was not even aware of it.”

This week, ask yourself if you are becoming more controlling as the demands of your business or your department increase.  Are you staying true to your core values and vision? How have your behaviors changed? Do you have a way of getting honest feedback from others? Are you sacrificing the long term health of your company or team for short term gains? Are you dictating or inspiring and empowering others?

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”  Antoine De Sainte-Exupery

Have a good week,


© Copyright 2014 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

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