George was frustrated. His employees were not doing what he told them to do. As a result, his customers were complaining. Some were leaving. Monthly sales figures indicated that those customers who remained were buying less. The family business was tanking.
His initial response to the situation was to read the riot act. He insisted more often and more strongly that his employees, Harry in particular, had to do things his way. He yelled, he swore, he stomped off in anger - all to get their attention and force them to comply with his orders.
It didn't work. After a short period of resentful compliance, the old patterns of neglect returned. Eventually, three of his employees, including Harry, quit. When George went to hire replacements, he got few applications and wasworking long hours himself to fill in gaps. One of the employees who stayed showed him Harry's Facebook post that warned potential employees that George was a miserable boss and should be avoided at all costs. George went from frustrated to furious.
What was wrong? Why didn't clear, strong directives and enforced compliance to high standards work? It had worked for his father.
That was the story as I heard it in our first coaching session. In desperation, George had taken his wife's advice and phoned to get me to fix things. After six months of coaching, things did change, but not the way George initially expected.
We worked on three core questions:
- What would you like to see happen?
- What can you do to make that happen?
- What will it take for you to do that?
What George really wanted to see was collaboration - people in his business working together, all aligned to provide exceptional customer service and value. He was convinced that would solidify customer loyalty, attract new customers, increase revenues, and ensure the ongoing success of the business. He realized his attitudes had to change. Angry coercion insisting on strict compliance did not generate collaboration.
What George decided he could do was model the way of relating to employees that he wanted to see happen by being collaborative himself. That meant he had to change his behaviour. He had to become more calm within himself, more curious about the best ways to accomplish things and the best things to accomplish, and more appreciative of the possibilities that could be co-created by genuine collaboration.
When George began to test these attitudes and behaviours out, he was startled by the speed and depth of the results. By taking a few deep breaths and focusing on the goal of collaboration, George was usually able to calm his frustration before opening his mouth. By asking people what they thought might be the best ways to deal with the situation, he invited others into the improvement process. By appreciating their insights, he enlisted them as allies in making the business better. Customers began to comment on how much they liked the change in 'feel' around the business and they began to bring their friends.
Although he wasn't aware of it at the time, George began to lead the way great jazz musicians lead their best groups. He created space for others to perform at their best, then play above that. He respected their ability to do that and did everything he could to support them in their desire to serve and improve. He was clear about the tune that was to be played, but left space in the performance for each player to bring their own creative insights into how best to interpret the chord/core chart in the situation. And he learned to express his appreciation for their contributions, along with making suggestions for further improvements.
All in all, he was collaborating in ways he had never imagined and everyone was having fun.
George's road from coercive compliance to creative collaboration was not straight, nor was it easy. He had to work hard to develop new habits of conversing with his employees. In the early stages, he found himself reverting too often to the old attitudes and behaviours. But he recognized the old patterns much more quickly and chose to do things differently. That discipline built new patterns that led to his success - and not just his success, but the success of his colleagues, his customers, and the business.
If you think Jazzthink might inspire and embed similar changes in your leadership, contact us to explore the possibilities at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you rich collaboration one conversation after another,