BRIDGING THE GAP
'Khun Kriengsak, can you talk?" asks Jane, one of my coaching clients. On the phone she sounds anxious, and I ask her to tell me what's on her mind.
"Can you coach me on how to work with my boss? He's a baby boomer who's in charge of a majority of people like me _ Generation Y."
"Jane, tell me more. Is this baby boomer hindering your performance?"
"Coach, first he believes that he has more experience than me. Hence, whatever he did in the past still works today," she begins.
"Second, he's only familiar with the command-and-control leadership style. In your columns write a lot about influencing and engaging knowledge workers. He rarely applies the idea of stimulating people's thinking by asking questions. He just instructs rather than coaches.
"Third, he's still trapped in the old mode of bureaucracy and seniority. Change today is fast and dynamic, but he still wants to make every decision instead of empowering his team."
"Jane, what do you want me to do?"
"Tell me the solutions."
"Why do you want me to tell you?"
"Because you have experience."
"That's interesting," I say, and intentionally keep quiet for a while.
"Coach? Are you there?"
"Jane, let's reflect on the discussion we've been having. Do you see yourself as part of the problem as well?"
She reflects for a moment, then she exclaims, "Oh! I guess I was expecting you to tell me the answer because you have experience. That's how I'm used to dealing with my boss."
"That's a good starting point Jane. Now let's come back to your question: what will you do to make your boss behave differently?"
"I'm not sure. Any hints?"
"Okay. But I won't really tell you the exact answer."
"Why's that Coach?"
"Jane, my solution was successful 20 years ago. It probably won't work any more. Let me ask you: among the Generation Y people in your office, who has ability to influence your boss the best?"
"What does Pat do differently from others?"
"She's the most mature person on our team. She really believes in being prepared. She told me once that on Sunday afternoons she plans for the week ahead: studying meeting agendas, doing research on the internet about topics that might come up during the week, reading business publications, and preparing data and information that her boss might find helpful.
"The boss is pleased with the extra effort she makes without ever being asked. In meetings, he usually tells most of us what to do. But because he knows Pat is already well prepared, he simply says to her, 'Pat what do you know about this?' Or, 'Pat what do you think?"'
"Jane, that's a good example. What else?"
"She's always ahead of work deadlines and produces better results. For example, the boss asked everyone to do feasibility studies for new product launches. He gave us a deadline of two weeks. Pat finished in 10 days. Most of our reports had just one scenario but hers had three based on poor, average and high economic growth."
"Jane, I'm impressed. Tell me more about Pat."
"She doesn't care about the silo mentality. In my firm, we tend to work well inside our individual departments. But when a project needs cross-functional cooperation, work can get delayed and some things don't get done at all because it's not clear who's responsible. Pat picks up the slack and does these things herself, often on her own time."
"The more you tell me, Jane, the more I think you already know the answer to the question you asked me earlier. I think that if you do exactly like Pat, you will gain more trust and be empowered like her. What do you think?"
"I don't know. It's a bit too much."
"What's on your mind?"
"My friends might think I'm too ambitious and want to step over their heads."
"What makes you think that way?"
"Because that's how we gossip about Pat."
"How can you influence your friends to think differently?"
"I'll use the same approach you just used with me _ ask questions to get them thinking."
"That's good. What's the plan?"
"Tomorrow, I'll start with a friend who has a positive attitude and also want to grow. Once both of us are on the same wavelength, we can start reaching out to others, one person at a time."
"Good luck Jane."
Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns are available at www.thaicoach.com
About the author
- Writer: Kriengsak Niratpattanasai