The Art of Leading Through Coaching And How Jordan Learned to Resist the “Let Me Fix It” Reflex

Jordan is a young manager. From the start, he has been very effective in solving problems and was quickly promoted to a management position and responsibility. His approach to solving problems has always been aggressive. Show him a problem and he is all over it. Jordan takes great pride in fixing problems. When he walks into a room, Jordan enjoys hearing people say, “Mr. Fixer is back.”

For four months Jordan had nine account managers in his team and now six of them resent him. When I interviewed them they said they admire Jordan, and that he is phenomenal, but they are afraid of him and his temper. When inquiring further I discovered that there was some suppressed resentment against Jordan underneath the fear. “Jordan has a big huge blind spot” one manager on his team told me.”He micro-manages us and wants to know in detail about every deal in the works. He doesn’t trust us and it says more about his insecurity and paranoia than about his capability. He is so used to being the superstar that he reduces all of us on his team to be less than we can be. He takes the job and the pride of success away from us. My guess is, if we don’t see a change very soon half of his team is not going to be here in a couple of months.”

The art of leadership is as much about “what you don’t do” as it is about “what you do”. You’ve got to know when to resist the “fixing itch”; when to delegate and trust the other person to find the solution. It’s about learning to resist yourself. Great leaders are capable of resisting the “let me fix it” reflex. The surest and fastest way to cause resentment around you is to point out every detail of what is going wrong and then attempt to fix it for everybody. I see a relief in managers when they begin to discover the art of coaching. They realize they can use coaching strategies to help their people unleash their own talents.

Jordan experienced an epiphany in our MC class (The Manager Coach). He had always thought of himself as being firmly in control. As we practiced the coaching conversation and the tactic of stepping back from “fixing” to “open ended questions”, Jordan was surprised to discover he was not in control. His fixing habit, Mr. Fixer’s pride and self image were in charge of him. Once he realized these issues, he was ready to step back and then make a leap toward letting go of trying to control a multitude of details. He was ready to empower his team and their capabilities. There was a big smile on his face when he recognized the greater freedom and versatility that become available in asking open ended questions and in trusting the people around him to find answers. It was as if a great weight fell off his shoulders. When I visited with his team six weeks later, I was told, “Jordan is a different person. It’s as if a light was turned on.”

There is a profound change that takes place when you shift from “fixing” to “coaching”. You change your language, your focus and even your posture and energy. It’s a bit like discovering the second floor above the basement you have lived in for years. Jordan suddenly discovered the Manager Coach floor, where natural light comes through the window and there is a view that was never available in the basement.  Breaking through his own limitations, and seeing clearly the things that control him rather than what he chose and aspired for, opened his eyes to the greater light of shared experience and collaboration. It made him a stronger leader. His team was prepared to rally around his own transformation as they recognized the new opportunity. Their results quickly improved and exceeded everyone’s expectations.

© Aviv Shahar

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