Each week during an executive coaching session, someone will tell me about an employee or direct report who is causing problems in the organization or on their team. Some times these individuals have problems with communication. Other days they have problems with solving problems. Routinely, they say one thing and do another. Whatever the case, they end up on the wrong side of the balance sheet and are labeled “a problem person.”
As a result of their actions or lack of action, morale drops, plans have to be adjusted, and systems are not working right. Then, the powers to be make a decision. This person has to change. They need more coaching and “more clarity.”
Next, as an experienced executive coach, I am called to help “fix this person.”
Oh, for it to be so simple.
I wish I could respond as follows: “Yes; I can do that. Let me go and get my mental adjustment mallet or my attitudinal correction wrench. An adjustment here plus a tightening of a bolt there, and then this person will be as good as new.”
But I am not naive. This is not my first time to the rodeo. From experience and a ton of reading from people who are much wiser than me, I have learned two simple truths: Life at times can be difficult, and people do not change that much unless they want to change.
Rather than trying to cram something into another person’s head so they will be better, it is time for us as leaders to find out what is already inside them. Then, when and if they are ready, help them learn a new way of working and living.
This is not the work of a mechanic. It is the work of a gardener. We do not fix people. We instead help them to grow, mature, and gain new perspective.
When some one is rubbing you the wrong way, it is time for you to realize one thing. You can not change them. You can only change yourself.
So, rather than trying to fix your problem people, it is time to be more understanding about what is the source of their problems. Remember, life at times can be difficult and people do not change that much unless they want to change.
As Marcus Buckingham, and Curt Coffman wrote in their wonderful book, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. (Simon & Schuster, 1999), “Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”
This week get to know your problem people better. Rather than trying to change them, first understand them better. With an open heart and lots of proactive listening, you can discover the right path to help them and yourself.