A brand president was referred to us for coaching when his organization was acquired by another corporation. Very quickly, this leader became viewed as true rising talent within the merged company, with the potential to run a larger, more significant brand or an executive management role. He was seen as smart and driven, with a remarkable ability to quickly grasp complex issues, weigh multiple potential solutions, and take decisive action.
However, there was a lingering note of concern about him. More senior business leaders, as well as the top HR leaders in the company, sensed a disconnect in his leadership style. While his leadership was generating growth and hitting performance targets, there was a sense that he wasn’t creating the type of teamwork and collaboration needed. They also weren’t sure if he was adequately developing and nurturing the talent underneath him to be the future leaders of the brand.
As we began coaching the leader, we heard from others that he was fully engaged, deeply committed to the business and the success of the brand, concerned about people, invested in their development, and open to new ideas. Some remarked that he was the best listener they had ever had as a boss. So where was this sense of disconnect arising?
Assessing Executive Presence
We deployed the Bates ExPI assessment to get a more robust appraisal of stakeholder perceptions within the various facets of his Character, Substance, and Style. The tool was illuminating in giving us a clearer picture of his leadership brand and providing an actionable path forward for addressing his developmental needs.
Notably, the assessment revealed lower ratings within the facets of Integrity, Humility, Inclusiveness, and Interactivity. This was a shock to the leader, since he believed these characteristics to be among his strongest attributes. It was clear that in certain areas of these facets, he did score high. However, upon closer evaluation, we saw that in other “sub-facets” or specific items, his scores revealed contradictions:
- Raters saw him as having a strong moral and ethical core, but conveyed that he didn’t always walk the talk.
- Feedback demonstrated that while he encouraged input from others in planning and decision making, they weren’t sure their voices were actually being heard.
- Raters conveyed that he appeared to let others take the lead, but those same people didn’t truly feel empowered.
- While he was self-deprecating and willing to give others credit for successes, others sometimes felt that their ideas and opinions were never quite good enough or were acknowledged but not fully embraced.
The leader needed to hear what behaviors were leading to these perceptions about his leadership. Through our work together, what came to light was that there was, in fact, a critical issue around listening. Yes, he had been complimented by his direct reports as being a great listener, but the reality was that it was perhaps more for his benefit than for the benefit of those to whom he was listening.
In private conversations or small group sessions, he would listen very actively, respectfully, and attentively…. up until the moment he had the information he felt he needed. For example, if six people were asked to weigh in on a topic, he might tune out after the fourth person spoke, leaving the other two to feel that their input was of little or no value. In private sessions, he would do the same, already mentally moving to strategy and execution while those across from him were still speaking, sharing their thoughts, opinions, and wisdom. If those ideas and opinions were aligned with his own thinking, or if he felt he was equipped with sufficient knowledge and input to make a decision, he would ‘unplug’ from the conversation or discussion in ways that were obvious to those around him.
This habit or trait was undermining his leadership. Despite good intentions, he wasn’t exercising real inclusiveness and interactivity, merely paying it lip service. And this in turn, was calling his integrity into question.
Connecting the Dots
For the leader, this was a “light bulb” moment. He immediately recognized the pattern and owned the behavior and its consequence. Almost immediately, he started showing more patience in conversations and group discussions, genuinely hearing people out, taking just a few moments longer to ensure his direct reports and others feel that their input is valuable.
The change was dramatic. The coach began to hear that the leader’s SLT meetings were “the best ever” and that individuals were suddenly feeling more empowered, and, as a result, working with a renewed sense of purpose and energy.
Identifying and understanding the interconnectivity of these facets of the ExPI and the role they play in the projection of leadership led to simple, yet clear and impactful change that is enhancing this leader’s effectiveness and continues to help drive the business forward.