Leadership through Eyes of a Coach...Alan Booth

Monday, October 15, 2012


I just had a break through with a family owned business that has implications for all leaders.

With this client,  the CEO struggles with the challenge of how to deal with his son in his business so that he becomes more competent in an eventual leadership role.  What I have heard Father say is: "...how can we get Son to have a more organized desk...have a more professional looking haircut...not procrastinating to the last minute with his tax filings...get his new printer I bought him up and running?"

Son tells me what he needs most from Father is greater respect for his skills and experience - not the solutions to problems or directives on how to fix something. So my challenge is discovering how to make that happen.

With the last meeting with Father talking about how to simply listen better to Son, he has an Ah! Ha! He has come to the realization that this is extremely difficult because he still sees himself as the father, not the business person mentoring the development of an employee.

Reflecting on the leadership challenges presented to me in both public and privately held businesses, it seems that too may leaders take on that parenting role - one that communicates "I know better than you and you should respect that for your own success."  Or, "In making decisions I work hard to get input from my team, weigh it carefully, but in the end I make the final decision."

Sounds like the parent-child model to me.  And why not?  After all, most of us intimately know and have experienced that model in both being a child and/or in parenting our children. It is familiar and we are experts at deploying the family model.

The solution? Actions that have crept into the literature include "empowering others, teamwork, collaborating, etc."  But the first step is to STOP PARENTING.

My practice has developed a process to do that; it is difficult for the leader to do, takes persistence and new disciplines but progress can be tangible when the willingness to change is present.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


So here I am interviewing a manager for my next book around why he thinks he is successful and what he aspires to in the future. He wants to succeed his boss who will be shortly promoted.

I get to the last question: "What is the one skill you have to strengthen to accelerate achieving the goal of succeeding your boss? " Big long pause.

It always amazes me how one can pontificate on their successes and competencies but not be acutely aware of the skills needed  to get to the next level...whatever that is. Maybe that is why I get engaged as a coach; to increase that awareness in real time and discover strategies to change.

Back to my manager. "Well, what I really need is to make time to work on more strategic projects that will earn me the credentials to move into my next job here." Important? "It is the most important thing I need to do."

"So Mr. Manager, at the risk of leading you, the skills of delegating to that very competent staff you are so proud about is the barrier?"

Manager: "No. It is not about delegating. I seem to need to hold on to certain tasks because I do not trust my staff to do them as well as I can."

OK, let's get this straight. I learned that this manager is never satisfied with work quality and continually raises the bar for himself and his staff. What must his staff think about working for this person? Is it really a trust issue?

It certainly seems that his staff thinks so but also realize that instead of the manager helping them succeed, he gets in the way of holding on to the plum tasks that have high visibility in their organization. And with all of the praise he brags about giving his staff, he admits he needs to shift his mindset from "it is all about me" to truly helping them get to the next level.

Only then will his superiors realize his leadership ability.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


The NEED TO BE RIGHT is not about being correct.  It is about the interaction that causes people to not be open about problems or not to step up with ideas on how to solve.

Now that I think about it, my first observation about people's need to be right is with my father. "The reason you have to do XXX is because I said so." 

In business it is the boss who will listen to  people's challenges and their ideas on how to resolve but in the end makes the decision what to do, inferring "I know best".  The paradox is:  on one hand the boss asking for input from her staff, demanding greater initiative, productivity and problem solving - without realizing that the NEED TO BE RIGHT syndrome inhibits all of these from happening.

Working for such a person causes one to feel marginalized, not having a voice - to be disregarded for thoughtful discussion of ideas.

In my coaching practice, I have found it helpful to focus one on this paradox by looking at both sides of the coin and then uncovering why it is so important to the right.  Here are some of the motivators my clients have told me:
  • Not having confidence in others ability
  • I need to be in control
  • Not risking looking like I don't have the answers
  • It is my job to make the big decisions
  • I am better qualified than my staff
If you are a NEED TO BE RIGHT person, consider why people are not stepping up with compelling ideas to solve problems or meeting your expectations.  Then take the risk of empowering your people to execute their ideas with your support. You just may be surprised that the results are better than you expected!

If you work for a NEED TO BE RIGHT person, don't give up.  Show respect for that person for their ideas and avoid causing their defensiveness. At the same time, make the case why your idea or approach might be better for all concerned.  Promote "compromise" so both of you feel the "win".

Monday, July 9, 2012


You may know Dave--he is challenged by one of his staff, Annie, who in meetings communicates an attitude of "I know better than [you, them, and others]".

Both are clients who over many months have not resolved this barrier to playing nice in the sand box.  And Dave's team is expecting him to step up to resolve.

Three steps that helped:
  1. Dave learned to confront Annie (in private) immediately after this attitude was observed
  2. He was direct; "I need you to stop taking strong positions on issues at the expense of other's views and opinions. Learn how to engage them and listen."
  3. He asked for commitment: "Can you do this?  What should I do if it keeps happening?"
So why does avoidance of giving constructive feedback occur?  My clients tell me:
  • Concern about escalation
  • Not sure how to approach
  • Giving up power
  • Being vulnerable
When I observed a CEO client start this conversation, she started with praise and was abruptly interrupted by her staff member, "Are you accusing me of being a problem in working with you?"

Caught in the act of being passive aggressive causes distrust that takes a long time to repair.  Understand that people what to know where they stand so they can correct their behavior.

In my dealings with family run businesses, the avoidance of conflict is the same.  The only difference is who holds on to the power which, in turn, reduces trust.