There was a rising software company executive who recently came into see me for some business coaching advice. I must admit that though we have encountered all sorts of challenges at VIM Executive Coaching, this was a first for me.
The executive admitted right away that she wasn’t much of a professional football fan. Her exact words, “You may not believe this, but I don’t like football.” I smiled, and told her that not liking football isn’t exactly a punishable offense! She corrected me, “Oh, you haven’t met my boss.”
Apparently, her boss’ office was not only festooned with a large football team flag, a signed helmet in a case and several photos of the boss posed next to players and coaches. He had four season’s seats near the 50-yard line and was always inviting his managers to attend games with him. To placate her boss, one frigid December day, she and three other executives attended a game. She kept a brave face as her boss and other executives downed several adult beverages. Though nothing untoward occurred, she was miserable and questioned why she allowed herself to be talked into attending.
At first, she said she didn’t think much of it. “After all,” she said, “everyone needs a hobby,” but it was obvious what was going on was more than a hobby.
More than a hobby
However, as she delved more seriously into the topic with me, I began to see why she was so distressed. Whenever “his” team lost, he was sullen and miserable to be around from Sunday until Wednesday. He also “favored” apparently, other executives and employees who shared those ups and downs with him.
She said that she was afraid it was apparent that she wasn’t (literally) a team-type player. When she had a pressing issue, and the boss was in a “Monday Morning Mood,” as other executives described it, he either dismissed her questions or didn’t return phone calls until he was finished with his foul mood.
I sat there and deeply thought on what she was telling me. The problem might sound frivolous and in fact, almost absurd, but it was quite a serious matter. My client was doing an outstanding job and was working very hard to make a difference in the company, but she was running up against a toxic culture.
Though no one deeply invested in a team of any sort wants to hear this, the outcome of a game, good or bad, should in no way influence workplace behaviors. Indeed, I have seen cases of subtle bullying over the issue of being forced to support, or not to support, a certain sports team. Further, the fact that her boss encouraged the formation of cliques within the company who were favored because they supported a certain team was not only unprofessional but indicated a lack of authenticity, and that point deserves further examination.
She moved on
Over time, my client received a job offer and she thanked VIM Executive Coaching for helping her to properly respond to the situation rather than a reaction. When she announced her resignation (on a Monday after a team loss), her boss tersely replied, “I don’t think you ever fit in with our culture.” It was a terrible thing to say to her, but not surprising. He was right, by the way, for she is an introspective and compassionate person. How could she fit in with such a culture?
Whatever else was going on in her boss’ life, and I say this as a leadership coach, not in any psychological way, football served him as a metaphor for his happiness or his sadness – depending. He had lost his sense of authenticity as a person. Further, he encouraged an in-authentic atmosphere in the organization. He needed executive coaching much more than the executive who came to see me.
It is important for us to not only focus on what is important during our workdays, but on the intangibles, we bring to the work experience. I might add, that I have coached executive leaders in the sports world and you would be surprised that once inside the professional complex organizations, the workplace problems are identical to any other company. The leadership qualities of authenticity, response rather than reaction, compassion and active listening, cut across all fields of endeavor.
To base our emotions on a win or loss, ultimately defines who we are and not the people on the field.
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