“How are you doing?” I asked an old client. “I’m surrounded by a sea of pettiness and negativity,” she said.
She first came to us at VIM Executive Coaching about three years ago for leadership training and, what can I say, she was just a terrific client! It was around that time that she was sending resumes out for management positions in the accounting profession. She received multiple offers, and she chose what she believed was an up and coming accounting firm in a large midwestern city.
The company had been undergoing a certain amount of “turmoil,” some good – some challenging. On the good side, they were attracting new accounts in the high-tech area and that particular area of the business was booming.
On the negative side, there were (though she couldn’t possibly know it at the time), many internal conflicts. For example, it was the old way of doing things versus the new; it was a rather staid and formal management structure versus a more free-flowing, team oriented approach; it was the rules and regulations of the organization’s policies, versus thoughtful and mindful responses to situations. The rules and regulations I mention have nothing to do with good accounting practices, they referred to a formal management and reporting structure, office procedures and the like.
The strife that was being created was troubling. Over the two and a half years of her employment, she had done quite well in leading her department. Indeed, she was a breath of fresh air. She had been promoted to a senior account position (she is a CPA), but on the other hand those above her could be extremely negative and intractable in their thinking. Some days, it was difficult for her to even find the motivation to get to work. No matter what she and her direct reports might recommend, the ideas were all shot down and derided. The upper management of the company refused to acknowledge any kind of strife, because to their minds, “If you don’t like it here, you can always leave!”
Unfortunately, the company is beginning to “erode.” Clients are leaving due to dissatisfaction borne out of a clash of cultures. The same types things the employees found frustrating were also what clients found frustrating. The hi-tech companies wanted better access and teamwork; they liked interaction and to have a greater degree of understanding of how and why things had to be reported and stated.
Stay the Course
As an executive coach, I do not subscribe to the concept of job-hopping simply for the sake of changing jobs. However, there are some cultures that can be quite toxic and resistant to change. Within her particular department, and within the confines of the 17 men and women who ultimately report to her, everything was running smoothly and there was a general happiness. Even disagreements and struggles were satisfactorily resolved. However, outside of the department, she is being subjected to hostility and the stock attitude of, “That’s not the way we do things.”
Why was there derision of her management style? My former client had learned the value of responding to situations rather than reacting to them. She is a very authentic person, and within that context, she practices compassion and having an open heart to conflicts or to challenges as they arise. She is a practitioner of mindfulness meditation to gain clarity in her every day work life. Other executives, even those younger (she is 42), believe she is far too “emotional” and she has even overheard individuals outside of her department call her a “tree-hugger!”
It often comes down to “vision.” My former client has an honest and clear vision where her direct reports are valued and respected. It is not to say she can’t or hasn’t ‘controlled,” or even disciplined employees, but her vision is based on respect and kindness. It is what we teach at VIM Executive Coaching. It is certainly the wave of the future and will continue to be so.
When organizations begin to lose their sense of compassion, the best of intended visions are lost.