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Collision with your boss. Do you know what he’s really thinking?

By Leslie Simone, Senior Consultant of the Handel Group. Leslie has been working with the Handel Methodology for over ten years, co-hosts a monthly TV segment on topics of interest to professionals in the Northeast, leads crash courses to executives in New York, and consults executives one-on-one throughout the country in developing extraordinary leadership.

It’s amazing how one comment can change the course of your career.  

As someone who has always had an eye on growth, many years ago I ask my boss, a CEO, to meet me at his favorite wine bar, to discuss my next big challenge. I bounce in, elated by just closing one of my best sales months in my history, supported by years of extremely strong partnerships with my adored clients.  Murmuring a half hearted hello, he belts out, “You’re a poison pill.”  Uh. . .whaaat? I slouch, stunned.  Speechless. 

He elaborates that I criticized a new initiative, and now the rest of the company refuses to sell it. Immediately defensive, I told him that my feedback was to fix repetitive problems that are turning my loyal customers into irate, untrusting ones.  Thirty minutes later, I leave in pieces, and he exits bothered by the interruption to his busy day, which by now, has surrendered to evening. Not a stranger to his outbursts, I decide it’s ‘the last straw,’ and spend the next few weeks plotting my departure, with no motivation to continue to contribute to his success.  After years of working with him, for better or worse, he was my hero, and obviously now. . . my nemesis.  What happened? 

Fast forward three weeks, I realized that I needed to re-author the situation, and assume responsibility for my results in this situation.  So I documented the entire experience from my perspective and then considered his.  The next step was to tell him how I let it affect me, and my performance.  I needed to reconnect and regain a relationship with the man I had “killed off” in my mind.  But a second conversation seemed like lacing the gloves for another knock out.  I committed, this time, though, to use the grace, wisdom, and professionalism necessary to mend the relationship.  

Palms sweating, and pulse racing, I stated that I didn’t know the scope of his investment in that initiative, and my suggestions to the operations and executive teams were intended to create an express track, not derail his efforts.  And, if after years of producing for the firm, that’s his impression of me, then I should leave.  I admit, I cried, given my genuine care for him and the firm.  He rebutted that he didn’t mean that my “whole person was a poison pill, just that in that one situation, I didn’t help his cause.” A very different message than I received the first time.   He said I was one of the most talented people he’s met and I need to accept that bumps in the road happen as we grow. He reasoned that he can’t reroute disproportionate company resources until we have a critical mass in the field. And that a reactive, premature response causes more problems than it solves. 

So by admitting responsibility for my actions, being truthful about where I got hurt, and having the courage to respectfully confront an unacceptable relationship, he apologized for the sweeping, inaccurate generalization, and gave me a much needed explanation and assurance that there was a methodical big picture strategy in place.   Years later, having been trained in the Handel methodology, I fortunately have nearly eradicated similar collisions that I authored in this situation.  In the past, I was too chicken to persist in asking for additional time with our CEO, or  highlight my concerns about his favorite projects. As a leader, I now speak my whole truth in the moment– and directly to the person who can remedy the situation.   And as an executive consultant, I draw on my own lessons learned, and that of hundreds of our clients, to help executives review and remedy conflict, to build extraordinary leadership teams.  The result is a resounding positive impact on both the bottom line, and peace of mind. 

Collision with your boss. Do you know what he’s really thinking?
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