Executive Performance Recovery: most failure can be recovered
Much nonsense is talked about the reason for executives and professionals failing on the job. Here is a condensed version of a conversation that I have experienced many times, with people, who, frankly, ought to know better.
“S/he just doesn’t have what it takes.”
What does it take?
“Well, you know, that ‘je ne sais quoi.'”
Please, be more specific: what does it take?
“It’s hard to define, but s/he doesn’t have it.”
What is ‘it’ that s/he doesn’t have?
“What it takes!”
What does it take?
“As I said, it is hard to define.”
What’s your best attempt at defining ‘it’?
“You know, ‘the right stuff.'”
What is the right stuff?
“Look! I told you; I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it, and in this case I don’t see it! OK!”
Hmmm… this lack of ability to understand the nature of an executive’s performance challenge can ultimately lead to the person being fired, unjustly.
Why unjustly? If the people who are firing executives, under such conditions, understood the nature of performance problems, they would be able to correctly identify the causes of the problem, and, to put in place what is required to solve the problem. In capable hands most executive performance problems can be successfully and quickly addressed – if the analysis of the problem is accurate.
In my experience the same people who are unable to articulate the nature of an executive’s problem(s) are also quick to label the same executive as “uncoachable.”
Even supposedly well-informed people declare the causes of some executive performance problems as “uncoachable.” For example here is an extract from an article on executive problems by one of the world’s top universities:
“You cannot coach character, integrity, or basic intellectual capacity. You cannot coach a fundamental change in personality. And you cannot coach someone out of a pathology.”
(Source: http://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2015/03/18/when-executives-fail-managing-performance-on-the-ceos-team/ 2015)
Let’s examine some of those wild, and deeply misanthropic assertions.
“You cannot coach character”?
Educational development, parental coaching, professional training programmes all seek to coach character. Of course character can be coached. Anyone who has ever developed another person, from senior staff to children knows that character can be developed.
“You cannot coach… integrity…”?
The same evidence as above proves otherwise. Even that same university teaches ethics on many of its courses. Why teach ethics if integrity cannot be coached? Clearly teaching ethics is an attempt to coach integrity. Integrity can be coached: clearly it is done, successfully, every day of the week, all over the world.
“You cannot coach… basic intellectual capacity”?
Leaving aside the fact that even specialist psychology researchers cannot agree a definition on what is intellectual capacity, most specific forms of intelligence can be coached. A large number of studies demonstrate that basic intellectual capacities can be, and have been, and are coached, successfully. Conduct a search using Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.co.uk/
“You cannot coach a fundamental change in personality.”
Again, not true. Psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and others all over the world assist people on a daily basis to make improvements and radical changes to their personality. Often your own experience provides the best evidence; ask yourself two questions:
1. Is your personality the same now as it was when you were 18? 28? 38?
2. Which teachers (in the broadest sense of the word) helped you to make the most profound changes to your personality?
If you have already experienced fundamental changes in personality, with the help of others, you know personality can be changed.
“You cannot coach someone out of a pathology”?
Again, not true. Psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and others, all over the world, coach people successfully out of a pathology (where pathology is some form of mental functioning that is causing a less than optimum performance in life). Each of us have “pathologies” that impair our performance. Where we are aware of them we seek to change them ourselves, or seek the coaching help of others to make the change.
What does all this mean?
That most executives and professionals who are experiencing performance problems can achieve the level of performance that they and those around them wish, IF they receive help. That help must be from someone who is able to analyse the nature of the performance problem and provide the appropriate pyschotherapy.
Here is a case history from my own executive psychotherapy practice.
A senior manager in a large complex organisation, who had been repeatedly promoted, looked as though he was failing in his new role. The company view was that he had been over promoted, but given his stellar track record, and my relationship with the company, I was asked to “solve his problem” before he was demoted or fired.
At the first session we discussed his approach to leadership, covering everything from objectives setting, through coaching, to handling corporate politics. Like all effective psychologists, psychotherapists, coaches, I made appropriate challenges. With each challenge I received an emotionally intense, and terse reply. I probed a little further, until it was evident that this senior executive was reacting emotionally to anything adverse to his objectives.
As an aside, passionate people, people who really care about outcomes, can often take personally obstacles, or perceived obstacles, and react emotionally. This executive had risen to near the top because (amongst other reasons) he cared deeply about the company’s clients, and what the company could do for clients. Anyone and anything that was a potential blockage to client satisfaction was viewed as a damaging liability to the company, with all the predictable emotional responses that would generate.
Understanding the cause of an executive performance problem can often start with an observation, which becomes a theory. Like all theories, only when they are tested successfully should they be turned in to action. His reaction to several test blockages, which I put in front of him, confirmed the theory. We shared what had just happened (reacting with such emotional force to my manufactured blockages). He immediately saw the nature of his problem, as was evident, even before he spoke, from the look of shocked realisation on his face.
The appropriate behavioural change plan was agreed, and immediately implemented (in that session). At the next session he was glowing with success. His performance was now viewed favourably by the company, and his career was back on track. His career was saved in two sessions. And any good psychotherapist could have achieved that result.
What does that mean to you?
If you are to have a rising executive career, you will, from time-to-time, be required to address your latest performance limiting problem. Keep analysing and addressing those problems and you keep developing. If you have the psychological skills to analyse such performance limiting problems you can do this on your own. If not, you might want to consider professional assistance so that your career can progress.
With skillful and accurate analysis of your latest performance challenge, you can quickly change your approach and achieve your desired performance levels.
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