Gripping Too Tight versus Holding Too Loose

Focus Mindfulness

Gripping Too Tight versus Holding Too Loose

This post could also have been named, “A Tale of Two Executive Leaders – Neither of Whom Had It Right!”

Both leaders are terrific people, and both came into VIM Executive Coaching with the same objective in mind: to be better managers. I might add that both women had come up through the ranks in their companies from relatively low administrative levels to achieve respected management positions. As I talk about these two, very bright people they might sound as though they have remarkably different problems. In truth, they are at the opposite ends of the same problem.


In her own self-evaluation, Melissa admitted that she “grew up” in a large (hundreds of millions of dollars), male dominated company that was in the “office supply space.” It is a business driven by hard decisions, cost analysis to the penny decisions, and the workload was always enormous. The company carried thousands of items in inventory and each item had to be tracked and carefully monitored. Her department was given that crucial task. It wasn’t glamorous, but absolutely essential work.

By her own admission, she grew up in a culture where humor and gut-busting laughter was in short supply, reserved for the annual holiday parties and breaks for vacations. “Fun” was frivolous and Melissa was the epitome of no-nonsense.

While we could certainly find fault with the no-nonsense, hard-driving culture the company had created, in fairness they were not a company where glass ceilings were in place. They saw Melissa for the exceptional manager that she was. She was promoted, and promoted again. With each promotion in the purchasing department, she was assigned more staff responsibility. When she came to us as VIM Executive Coaching, she had a staff of about 25.

“The problem is my people don’t enjoy working for me,” she said. “I am not a very fun person, and I don’t like office pranks, parties or pettiness!”

Melissa felt that if she lost control (and office fun or even team building fun activities were her ideas of a company losing control), then she could not be an effective leader.


On the other hand, Barb came up in the world of public relations working for a variety of clients in fashion and home décor. She started as an associate manager, then an assistant manager, a full manager and then a senior manager. She was an intuitive, bright and creative person – of that there could be no doubt. Her campaigns bordered on brilliant and her staff members, for the most part, liked to be around her. She was bubbly and effusive.

However, she did hit a ceiling of sorts. She was continually passed over for promotions. This was an interesting phenomenon because the successful agency was women-dominated.

She first met me at VIM Executive Coaching after she had received a so-so review, and was again passed over for promotion despite the fact that she had put together a classic PR campaign for a major client.

Barb admitted she didn’t know what to do. She said she, “felt like a complete failure.” After I assured her that she was not, she showed me the review with high-lighted statement:

“Though successful in many areas, Barb tries so hard to be everyone’s friend and pal, she often appears to be weak, indecisive and scattered in managing work groups.”

Same Problem, Different Sides

At first glance, Melissa and Barb couldn’t seem to be more different. They are, in fact, more similar than you might imagine. Melissa’s problem is that the grips too tightly because she is afraid of losing control of the people who work for her. She is afraid of letting loose just a little and as a result her employees are not happy. Barb longs to be everyone’s friend. She jokes, she “plays,” she’s at the center of any party and always needs to fill blank spaces with what in her mind is creative energy. She is so loose, her people see no structure, no manager and no place to go when there is a serious issue.

My advice for both of these women, was that neither of them had taken the time to cultivate mindfulness and neither saw those around them as people. They could react to major problems, and they could be effective given a certain set of problems or creative challenges, but neither had cultivated the technique of responding to their employees in real and compassionate terms.

In Melissa’s case, we worked with her to loosen her grip and to understand that employees have human needs. One of those needs is to derive some type of enjoyment and accomplishment for their work. By better responding to them with compassion, and by allowing some laughter and enjoyment into the department, Melissa’s employees grew happier and she grew happier. Barb grew to understand that employees with needs are to be listened to, respected and given a sense of structure. It would mean she would have to give up being “one of the guys,” and become a leader. We worked with her along those lines, and I’m happy to report her promotion to group leader.


VIM: - noun: lively or energetic spirit; enthusiasm; vitality