Sometimes observation is the very best tool that an executive leader can possess. VIM Executive Coaching is a strong advocate for having business leaders observe key employees before making decisions.
Not long ago, the Vice President of Human Resources called me in to share a problem she was having with a key employee. In fact, no one liked working with this person. He was seen as being “hostile” and “arrogant.” Naturally, I asked many of the same, predictable questions that anyone else may have initially asked in determining the problem.
“Did he say anything?” I asked. The answer was “No.”
“Was he in any way inappropriate?” I asked. Again, the answer was “No.”
“Did he lie, cheat, steal?” I wanted to know. She laughed. “Of course not.”
Then what was it? Her reply started off with: “He glares.”
Contempt and Unspoken Aggression
I mulled over the HR director’s comment for a second, then I probed a bit more. The executive, she said, exuded contempt and anger without saying a word. He would sometimes lean forward in an aggressive posture. He glared, sneered, fidgeted, drummed on his desk and on and on, in a constant show of impatience and disdain. Other times he would look down and begin to skim his smartphone for messages and email, or he could completely change the topic, appearing as though he wasn’t even listening.
The accumulation of these actions made it impossible for people to work with him with any sense of comfort and safety.
He felt uncomfortable working with an executive coach. He said he was too busy. He didn’t have time for feely-touchy stuff. We asked, we pointed out the importance of “awareness,” of open posture, of an accepting attitude and of grace itself. He gave me an analogy of the tough-love of a drill sergeant to his troops.
Though most executive or entrepreneurial coaches might shout their success in breaking-through with such a tough nut to crack, to be entirely honest, we could not get through his defenses or his lack of appreciation for his staff and the job itself. Sometimes it happens. Frankly, when some leaders are asked to be honest with self-evaluation as part of executive leadership training, they often avoid the exercises rather than to see themselves in a true and honest light. We reported our attempts to the HR director and we walked away.
It should come as no surprise that shortly after, after an employee felt threatened by his attitude and anger during a meeting, he was brought before his boss and was terminated. The HR director reported to me that the man berated his boss in the meeting as being “soft and coddling.”
We never learned where the manager’s angry attitude and posturing had come from, but it was apparent he had no concept of grace or gratitude. Incidentally, I came to learn he was never in the Army, or any military service. On the other hand, I have come to know many fine men and women who are veterans who have made outstanding and compassionate leaders. Invariably, the veterans were filled with grace and did everything possible to take direction and succeed.
Practicing grace must often be learned. Despite all we read and hear about “being grateful,” the executive leader who carries gratitude in their heart, must often learn to translate that awareness to an inner value. When gratitude is fully understood and appreciated it is amazing how it translates to their posture, face, tone and ability to respond rather than react to workplace situations.
Practicing grace must force many leaders to lose preconceptions and expand self-awareness and honesty. The transition in attitude leads to happier employees, better problem solving and more effective leadership.