81% of leaders interviewed said feedback on executive presence is often contradictory and confusing and are unclear on how to act on it.
– Center for Talent Innovation
Rediscovering Your MoJo!
A couple of years ago I was asked by a good friend to help one of the members of his immediate team. This person was new and had a lot of talent, but was somehow unable to show up with confidence with his management colleagues. He and his team played a crucial support role for the others, but there was something missing. Could I help?
The Man Inside of the Man
I met with the young man and was immediately surprised by his 6’3″ height and strong build. I asked him to explain what he was experiencing in these meetings. He expressed how he felt intimidated by the others. He was new to the corporate world and they seemed to have much more experience than he did. As he spoke, I saw that his posture began to collapse and his head droop. He looked defeated.
I then asked him to tell me a time when he felt in his best self. A time when he felt most confident, alive, and effective. He paused a moment in reflection, and then slowly his face began to light up. Come to find out he was, at one time, an international martial arts champion! What! My curiosity was lit! I immediately asked him to sit as though he was at a match. His posture immediately changed. He sat back with a swagger that would send chills in any opponent. I asked him about this person and what had happened to him. He said he got hurt and had to put this part of his life behind him, and move into a new life.
The Path Forward
Together was talked about how it felt to be back in his former self. He liked it and missed it very much. We then discussed and practiced ways for him to recapture the essence of this part of himself and to bring it with him in his new role of business.
It did not take long for him to see results. He knew the value of practice and quickly saw the results among his peers. He projected a new found sense of confidence that was tempered with the humility of a champion. His value and that of his team was soon felt. He had finally landed in his role and stepped into a new chapter of his life.
61% of global senior leaders confirm they struggle or fail to link strategy with day to day execution. – Nomist Intelligence
From a Potential Lawsuit to a $6,000,000 Check!
This case is a compelling example of the direct impact that classroom learning can have on top line revenue generation.
“It is August 2016. For the past 18 months we have been leading a large-scale digital transformation project for an energy distribution company. Over the prior 6 months issues have surfaced such as missed milestones originating from both our side and the client side. With each delay the two teams have sat down and renegotiated new milestones and begun anew. Our new launch date is now September. One month away.”
“Then we get the notice, ‘No way we can launch in September!’ The frustration had been mounting on both sides. We got by with 3 delays, but it is getting tense. Both parties are deeply entrenched in a negative cycle of blame, pointing fingers at each other for the delays.”
“We take a collective deep breath and proposed a November date. We felt confident that this would give both sides enough time to work through any issues and still hit this new target launch date.”
“Then we get another more frightening notice. This time it is from the client finance team. They are demanding that we take November off the table! They are facing their year-end close and say it would be too much for them to handle at the same time. They counter proposed a March launch date.”
“We are at a stalemate! There is no way we can wait until March! That is over 6 months away and it would put us way over budget. Plus our credibility is on the line. Our whole team is fuming and I am thinking that if we do not resolve our differences quickly, we could be looking at a substantial lawsuit that would create chaos for both of us. I am feeling anxious beyond measure. The stakes were very high and I need to resolve this, and fast.”
Meeting the Challenge
It was at this exact time I was enrolled in a two-day program titled Executive Poise, Presence and Influence being delivered by Protagonist Consulting Group. The owner of the company facilitated the session.
On the first day of the program we were led through a number of experiential exercises designed to help us increase our influence with key stakeholders. These included, how to show up with confidence and approachability, how to be fully present and listen more deeply to the needs and concerns of others, and how to capture attention and change opinion through the effective use of story and metaphor. Everyone in the class was fully engaged and found value in the experience. One of my favorites was the use of a simple yet powerful practice for getting in the present moment. It is Breathe – Connect – Land. It is as simple as it sounds. Take a deep breath in, then connect with what is most important, finally land the intention inside of your self.
In the afternoon of day one we were working on a model for open communication and dealing with conflict – Observe – Think – Feel – Want. The facilitator explained the four aspects of the model and, as a way to demonstrate, asked if there was someone who had a high stakes, unresolved situation with a client.
The issues with my client had reached a boiling point so I willingly volunteered. I started by giving some context. Many in the room knew the situation. I outlined the recent interactions between the two working groups and mentioned the phone call I had scheduled first thing the following morning.
Surfacing the Paradox
As we proceeded to move through the model I discovered something remarkable. I was able to experience two opposing emotions that I was feeling. On one side, I was excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel on this project. On the other, I was concerned and discouraged that the two teams were at odds with each other with no obvious way forward.
It was then that I realized what was at the root of the problem. We were operating from a fixed pricing structure. On our side, we were frustrated and blaming the client team for trying to squeeze out the most fixes and features from us and keeping us from our anticipated launch dates. First and foremost, we needed to get the framework up and running. The client, in turn, was blaming us for cutting corners and not bringing the most value to them. The teams were not aligned and we were losing our footing quickly.
I realized that the path forward hinged on surfacing the paradox with my client structured in the Observe – Think – Feel – Want model. I left the session feeling confident in my approach for the call the next morning.
The Way Forward
That evening I began writing my thoughts out on paper. I was able to put myself in the shoes of my counterpart. I realized that, due to the fixed pricing structure we were operating under, she had lost authority with her team. There was no incentive for her team to distinguish between the “nice to have” and “have to have” fixes and features. They did not feel a sense of urgency to move forward. As a result, it was beginning to show badly for her in the steering committee meetings. In order to regain standing in their eyes and influence with her team, she needed the right incentives in place that the fixed pricing did not provide.
This was the mindset that I was able to carry with me on my call with her. My goal was to frame a plan that would return authority to her. But first I knew I needed to build a relational bridge between us. I needed to be fully present on the phone with her and project a calm presence.
“I started by using the Breathe – Connect – Land practice to get centered and grounded. The breath gave us both a pause moment to collect our thoughts and get in sync with each other. With the O-T-F-W framework I then explained our position to her without falling into the cycle of blame. I was able to listen deeply in our conversation to see if she was experiencing the same paradox as me. To my surprise she was able to see that the path to the finish line lay in changing the structure under which her team was operating. It was a true ah ha moment! for her. She realized that by making this change, we would all be on the same page with the same incentives and sense of urgency. We were then able to sit down with all of the key people and move forward together. As it turned out, from her perspective, getting to the finish line was worth the outstanding $6 million that was owed to us.”
I arrived at the session on day two and found the group already digging into a new exercise. Everyone turned and looked at me anxious to hear what happened on my call with the client. I was grinning from ear to ear. The key point I relayed to the group was that the model gave me a clear pathway to express my thoughts. I was able to acknowledge the miscommunication that had taken place over the last several months and expressed the impact that it was having on both of our teams. I was able to say this without blame, just stating the impact. I was also able to say to my client the following. “All that we want is to agree to a successful launch, on time and on budget. I imagine that this is what you want as well?” She agreed. I then said, “I also imagine that you would like to be treated fairly in the process.” She perked up in agreement. I then said, “This is what we would like as well.” For the first time in many months we were on the same side of the table agreeing on a positive way forward.
In essence, we were able to get beyond the cycle of blame and align on three key areas: The first was the shared outcome to achieve a successful launch on time and on budget. The second was to align on our values, we both wanted to be treated fairly. Finally, was to change the commercial incentive structure. It was a win-win.
Moments that Matter
During this process of enhanced communication between our two organizations there were several moments of truth that occurred that made a significant difference.
One in particular was when my client came forward and apologized to me for the way her team had been acting. Once she had put the new commercial structure in place, she let her group know that the negative behavior had to stop. I acknowledged how much her words meant and also expressed our contribution to the problem.
At our organization we lead large-scale digital transformation projects with Fortune 500 organizations. However, the true nature of our work often comes down to our ability to resolve interpersonal issues and conflict with our clients that invariably crop up. These issues tend to take the form of differences in expectations, lack of communication, and a cycle of blame between parties.
In this case, once we changed the commercial framework from a fixed price to a time and material structure, the accountability shifted from our project managers to their project managers. The teams immediately saw that they were now all on the same page with common values and a common threat to address.
The deep seeded mistrust between the two teams was rooted in the misalignment of the pricing structure. It created different drivers for each team. The client was thinking, “These guys are trying to get away with doing the minimum amount of work. We are not getting the value.” We were thinking, “The client is always dragging their feet, and trying to add unnecessary fixes and features and needlessly expanding the scope of the project. There was no way out and the cycle of blame would have continued to get deeper and deeper. Only when the accountability switched did the project get back on track.
In the end, we were able to agree on mutually acceptable launch date, as well as on how both teams wanted to be treated.
To everyone’s amazement and satisfaction, it has since gone live with no issues. One of the best launches in our history!
Being + Doing = Results
I have to admit that taking the time to attend the two-day learning program gave me several benefits:
- Perspective: We are all entrenched in our day-to-day activities and mindsets. It is often difficult to step back, reflect and see the situation from all sides.
- Technique: None of us know all of the answers. Even the best in any field need to find time to learn and grow. The communication models we learned were a critical element in achieving collaboration with my client and her team.
- Practice: Having the opportunity to try on the new behaviors in a safe learning environment was crucial. My colleagues were able to provide feedback and insights that were tremendously useful. Being able to learn from each other makes a huge difference in our performance in front of our clients.
Return on Investment
Continual learning is a must for any organization struggling to achieve its strategic goals. It is with confidence that I can say that without the external support, we might have found ourselves entrenched in a protracted lawsuit.
I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the $6,000,000.00 check received from a happy and satisfied customer.