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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



December 28
08:39 2017

Mangement by Coaching

If you want to improve results, start by examining your own behavior

Research shows that working  environment accounts for somewhere between 20% and 30% of business performance. About 60% of how employees perceive their  working environment is traced to the actions  of one person: the leader.

Whether you answer to a board of directors, a demanding boss, or yourself, the pressure to achieve better and better results is relentless. If you’re like most leaders, you’re constantly scrutinizing every aspect of your business in search of opportunities for improvement. But when is the last time you stepped back and took a close look at yourself with an eye toward how your behavior is affecting performance?

Research shows that working environment accounts for somewhere between 20% and 30% of business performance. About 60% of how employees perceive their working environment is traced to the actions of one person: the leader.

The fact is, even the best executives have room for improvement. That improvement can have a significant and immediate positive impact on results. The challenge is, when leaders reach a certain level of experience and success, they often plateau. Their focus is on fixing everything and everyone around them. They lose sight of their behavior and the positive and negative effects it has on performance. If they do assess themselves, they are quick to overlook or dismiss flaws.

We all have issues

After leading his company’s field operations for the past five years, Conner was on track to become the CEO. He was well known throughout the organization for always achieving his goals, his 70-hour work weeks, and a “do whatever it takes” credo. As the guy who could be relied on to always get it done, his boss loved him.

Others on the leadership team didn’t feel the same way. Conner’s hard-driving, commanding style and need to win every point were a turnoff to his peers. Knowing he was the CEO’s “fair-haired boy” and might be their manager in the not-so-distant future, no one was willing to be candid with him about his off-putting style. Instead they looked for every opportunity to work around him.

Their avoidance of Conner was bogging down progress on initiatives critical to the organization’s success. Conner knew his peers were leaving him out of discussions. He attributed their actions to petty jealousy rather than considering the role he might be playing in causing their behavior. Ultimately Conner’s blind spot about how his behavior was affecting the team cost him his promotion. Frustrated by the lack of progress and increased tension among the leadership group, the CEO passed over Conner and chose a successor with a track record for building high-performing teams.

Evan was the CEO of a large, highly profitable brokerage firm. He’d been in the job for five years. During his tenure he made four major acquisitions and helped the firm become one of the top brokers in the county. The focus shifted from “buying” to unifying the new organization and capitalizing on the synergies of the businesses he’d acquired. Evan knew that the organization had grown too large for him and that he needed a stronger, more talented senior leadership team.

He invested time, energy, and money in putting a solid team in place, but he couldn’t resist the temptation to micromanage them. He weighed in and rated every idea, positioning himself as the chief arbiter of what was good and bad, right and wrong. No matter how good someone’s idea was, he couldn’t resist the urge to take it to the next level. Evan told himself that his need to put his mark on every idea was part of his engagement in the business and quest for excellence—traits he viewed as admirable. What Evan didn’t see was that it was killing the team’s initiative, buy-in, and sense of ownership. He had already lost one of the best new hires on the management team.

Kate, a senior vice president and rising star with a specialty insurer, was creative, passionate, and brilliant when it came to identifying growth opportunities. Her insight, timing, and ability to get things done had generated substantial profits for her organization. A perfectionist by nature, Kate had attributes that also included a hair-trigger temper and a tendency to overreact when anything went wrong. As a result, no one wanted to bring her bad news. Problems that could have been resolved easily if addressed early were left to fester. Her team grew increasingly hesitant to make decisions and take any risk out of fear of making a mistake.

Josh, an entrepreneur and CEO of a new insurance technology startup, was a chronic multi-tasker. Never one to miss an opportunity or lose a minute in his day, he was consistently late for meetings, took phone calls during conversations with subordinates, and texted during others’ presentations. He saw this as being productive; his staff saw it as downright rude. Josh’s perceived lack of respect for others’ time was contagious. It quickly became the organizational norm.

When leaders reach the highest levels in organizations, cognitive abilities and technical skills become less important. That’s because they’re a given. It is people skills and the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and behavior that are the greater predictors of effectiveness.

Why, then, do so many leaders fail to address the behaviors that negatively impact performance and stand to stall or derail their careers?

Why leaders cling to behavior—even when it’s not working for them

Successful people can be a potent mix of stubbornness, pride, and defensiveness. Getting them to own up to a flawed behavior can be difficult. The more successful leaders are, the less likely they are to change. After all, if the successful person wasn’t doing things right, he or she wouldn’t be so successful. Here are four takeaways from the examples we looked at:

  1. Past success reinforces that the successful person is doing things right. Connor attributed his career success to his “command and control” leadership style and “do whatever it takes” philosophy. It got him noticed and made him a hero when the job was turning around a failing business division that had been floundering for years because of lack of direction and leadership. What he refused to recognize was that his heavy-handed style didn’t work when his job depended on collaboration with a peer group comprised of equally experienced leaders. Instead of considering the impact of his behavior, he blamed the problem on his peers and their lack of commitment and accountability.
  2. A winning trait, when taken to the extreme, becomes a fatal flaw. Evan is a prime example. His quest for improvement and need for personal involvement in every aspect of his company enabled him to build an impressive business quickly. So, as the business grew larger, Evan worked harder than ever to remain the company’s “chief problem solver.” His obsession to keep his hands in the details of every major initiative was making progress impossible.
  3. People tend to see flaws as an integral part of their identity. These leaders openly admit their flaws. Without any apology, they’ll almost proudly acknowledge not being a detail person, having a bad temper, or being impatient. They chalk up their inexcusably bad behavior as if it’s a genetic trait that they can’t change. Kate, for example, rationalized that her hot temper was part and parcel of her passionate nature and creative temperament. People don’t buy that for a second. In their hearts, they believe that if the person cared enough, he or she could change behavior.
  4. They think the flaw is inconsequential. These individuals rationalize that they’re so important or good at the “real work” that they don’t need to worry about a minor shortcoming. Josh viewed himself as the deal-maker and driving force of the company. His time was far more valuable than anyone else’s, and he felt that others should respect that they needed to wait for his attention. What Josh couldn’t see was that he was making people feel that their contribution wasn’t valuable and that his behavior was a critical factor in the company’s plummeting level of engagement.

The value of feedback

The higher leaders climb in an organization and the more power they gain, the harder it is to come by honest feedback. This reality is compounded by the fact that successful people often live under the assumption that they are successful because they behave in a certain way. But sometimes there is no causal connection between a specific behavior and success. In fact, the opposite may be true: Success may be in spite of the behavior. The key is recognizing the difference.

Leaders can be tone deaf to feedback. How do you crack the protective shell they have around them and help them separate the behaviors that truly make them successful from those that are holding them back? Feedback is the answer, but for it to be heard it must come from multiple sources and it must be from people the leader respects. When it comes to feedback on a person’s flaws, the initial reaction is almost always denial. That is why it is so important that the person hear it from multiple sources.

Well designed and administered “360 Assessments” are a powerful tool for providing needed feedback in a way that it can be internalized and acted on. It’s one thing to hear in conversation that you’re very hands-on. But it’s another thing to read a feedback report that shows seven of your eight direct reports think your tendency to micromanage is a major obstacle to achieving their goals.

The next time you focus on how you’re going to improve results, take a close look at yourself. Get a clear understanding of what behaviors are working for you and what behaviors you may need to adjust—based on today’s reality rather than what may have worked for you in the past.

When it comes to improving results, the impact of your behavior is one of the few things over which you have 100% control.

 The author

Kimberly Paterson, CEC and Certified Energy Leadership Coach, is resident of CIM (, CIM works with organizations and individuals to maximize performance through positive lasting behavioral change. Her clients are property & casualty insurance companies, agencies and brokers. She can be reached at kpaterson@


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