Michael, a COO of a growing startup in Austin, Texas, is a great guy and a brilliant thinker. He’s been hired by a particular company to bring about a turnaround in management and inevitably the bottom line. The company has experienced a significant loss in revenue over the past few months and it’s now Michael’s job to turn things around. If he fails, the company will fold – end of story.
Michael is about to take the company in a direction that will transform its vision, culture and business structure. There’s no doubt he has what it takes to create this turnaround. However, he’s challenged and stopped with every step he takes. For instance, yesterday he received a memo from his CEO that states all unnecessary expenditures will be cut. There goes any actualization of executive team off-sites to thoroughly discuss and implement what’s required to make this company work.
Michael is stymied and feels like his hands are tied! He is out to rescue the company. That’s what he’s been hired to do. Since joining four months ago, he’s been exploring the underlying foundation upon which to rebuild. He doesn’t want to push too hard for change as the company and executive team is also quite new and pretty fragile. He fears resistance and pushback. Michael retreats from potential conflict or confrontation; unsure whether the executive team will follow his lead. Our coaching conversations lean into what might occur if he steps into his role to a larger degree.
I asked Michael to assess the degree of effectiveness that he brings with him to his job. He answers that he’s about 80% effective. For Michael’s personal and professional development and for the sake of the company, he’s going to have to stretch to 82-85% to fully engage the company in this campaign.
You expected me to say that Michael needs to stretch to 100%, didn’t you? Well, given that for Michael, 80% is within his comfort zone, to leap too far beyond the edge could create a backlash. And, as most of us have experienced, if we push ourselves too hard for change, we end up digging in our own heels, resisting and pushing back. Exploring out just a couple of degrees from the edge of Michael’s comfort zone allows him to experience various dimensions of reality that confront him, without leaving the comfort of his easy chair. From here, he can assess and evaluate any number of strategies that would initiate a greater degree of effectiveness. Though he initially leans out just a bit, he actually expands his comfort zone, engaging his fullest potential to explore and experiment with his capacity to make things happen.
It’s actually rare for leaders to operate at 100% effectiveness. And, my belief is that most companies aren’t even going to hire an individual who brings that degree of effectiveness to the workplace, because they are yet to be capable of that level of success themselves. They don’t yet know how to bring about that level of success. That makes sense!
Quite a few executive clients of mine back away from the edge of their comfort zone because it’s unfamiliar territory. They fear what may be revealed. More to the point, they fear experiencing the inadequacy within their humanity, which no doubt will devastate their egoic identity. Who are they without the suit of armor called ME?
The consequence of avoiding the edge may mean that employees and the company at large are unlikely to fulfill their vision. Executives are human beings, and like most of us, they may miss the point of digging through personal baggage and exposing vulnerabilities, along with the nuggets of GOLD! They play a big game, however more often than not they are unwilling to risk their own personal security in order to remain invulnerable.
Much of Michael’s conversation with me thus far has been how the company is resisting, ignoring or limiting his authority. As his thinking partner, my listening informs me that, on some unconscious level, the company is conspiring to bring Michael to the fullest expression of his essential nature and for him to lead from this place. They won’t budge until he brings more of his empowered self to the table. He is required to empower himself to make those shifts in order to empower others to do the same.
As Michael and I talk, he begins to get the lay of the land within himself and his company. He’s beginning to see how, in many ways, the company is waiting for him to step into the very practice he’s going to require of them. He sees now that he has to be the role model for change.
Regardless of how high up in the ranks of leadership one climbs, each individual is required to face their fears and risk vulnerability, only in service to their vision and life purpose. I love working with Michael because he is clearly aware of a larger vision for his company and he has a knowing that this is essential for the company to thrive, or even to survive.
The Dilemma for Michael: he can stay within his 80% effectiveness and capitulate to the company’s foot-dragging, while still maintaining his reputation as an effective leader. Or, he can amp up a few degrees of effectiveness, risking a loss of safety and security. He may be vulnerable to the possibility that people won’t like him, may confront him and perhaps drastically push back. Yet change is required to save the company. He’s considering his options.
Michael didn’t get to be a COO by being a coward. He’s talented, highly effective and has what it takes to create this turnaround. He has no idea yet the fullest potential available to him just beyond that 80%. I’m happy to report that he sees this as an exciting adventure! Wha-hoo!