Don’t Let Amiss Behavior Be A Missed Opportunity

When I met Amir, he was struggling to fit into the new culture of the multinational company that had acquired his startup. Unfortunately, the executives at his new company found him disruptive in meetings, inappropriate on email, and challenging to manage. Things came to a head when Amir called out the celebrity founder of the parent company at an employee-wide meeting for being wrong. Witnesses of the incident said the collective gasp in the room was palpable.

After publicly offending the man who spent millions for his startup, Amir was assigned to me for coaching as a part of a performance improvement plan. In the view of his superiors, Amir was stubborn, disrespectful and a troublemaker. He wasn’t a team player and didn’t fit into the company culture. They couldn’t fire him, but they hoped I could force him to play by the rules.

Amir’s superiors saw him as a bad employee, but I figured someone capable enough to get his company acquired by this famous multinational had to be intelligent. Rather than dictate how he ought to behave and to scold him when he was out of line (as his superiors had been doing), I took a different approach.

My perspective was that there must be a communication problem. Instead of assuming he was wrong, I started with the premise that he saw something that was being overlooked by the company’s leadership. Rather than believe he was just a bad employee who clashed with company culture, I took the time to understand where he was coming from and to learn that he was taking actions that were counter to company culture on purpose to get attention for a problem that was going unnoticed. The Amir I came to know was anything but a troublemaker. Once he recognized I wasn’t there to “get him in line,” Amir’s face lit up with excitement at having someone connected to the company listen to him. And in the end, the company took Amir’s concerns seriously and reevaluated their formulas.

No matter where we go in life, we are bound to meet people like Amir— people who cause tension or general frustration because they refuse to act in the ways we prefer, or according to a specific set of standards. These people might question our decisions, refuse to follow a standardized process, or bend the rules when it suits them. People who exhibit this type of behavior can quickly erode morale within a group and can be particularly challenging to rein in.

However, it is precisely these types of “stubborn” people who can make us better leaders, because to reach them effectively and entice them to change their behavior, we have to change ours. When they challenge our authority, the temptation may be to push harder, but this can cause us to miss relevant information and opportunities. When we instead take the time to discover where they are coming from mentally and glean the motivations for their behavior, we can modify our management styles to communicate and interact with them more effectively, selecting more appropriate leadership tools that will resonate with them and support them to meet our expectations. And in learning to be flexible in our management styles and to modify our behavior as leaders, we can become more effective with a broader set of people.

Take the example of a leader whose report consistently questions her management decisions in front of the team. Is the report pushing back because he thinks he knows better? If so, she can look for opportunities to let him drive on less critical projects, and then hold him accountable for the success of those projects. Or if the report doesn’t like top-down decision making, she might work on building consensus within the team before making a decision. Perhaps the report would respect a direct command such as, “In team meetings I need you to hold onto your questions. If afterward you still feel the need to raise them, I’m happy to meet with you one-on-one and discuss.” Different people respond in different ways; the key as a leader is to be able to recognize what kind of leadership the report needs to feel safe, and then find a way to provide it.

Leadership is not a fixed skill; instead, it is a continuum of learning and evolution we navigate throughout our lives. Good leaders are not only willing to continually augment and evolve their skills and to adapt their behavior to meet the needs at hand. When encountering an unfamiliar situation or a challenging type of behavior trait, leaders who are willing to be flexible in how they lead and build stronger lines of communication with their teams can garner more of the results than those who use intimidation to force the result they want.

As an employee, Amir brought intelligence, insight, and passion – all qualities that most companies crave – but his management had trouble seeing past his confrontational style. As I worked with Amir on his communication strategies, so too did I offer his superiors techniques to improve their skills and adjust their behavior so they could communicate with him more effectively.

At the beginning of the assignment, Amir’s direct supervisor said it would be an unmitigated success if I could get a 10% improvement out of Amir. In the end, he said there was a 90% improvement, nearly all of it stemming from a willingness from leadership to drop assumptions and match management style to the person being managed. And those concerns Amir raised with the celebrity founder? Once his feedback had been successfully incorporated and the formulas recalculated, Amir ended up saving the company millions of dollars.

This week, think about a person in your life you have been struggling to lead effectively. Whether they are a work colleague or a friend or family member, reconsider the situations where you have had tensions. What is keeping things stuck? How can you modify your perspective to match what that person needs to be the best they can be? What are three steps you can take this week to make that change?

“I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.” – Everett Dirksen

Take charge of your business success.

Schedule a complimentary one-on-one consultation, where you can discuss what you are looking to achieve in your life and business, learn more about what Julien offers and determine together whether his services are a good fit.