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Why is it so difﬁcult for many technical professionals to become effective managers? As a vehicle for detailed, actionable feedback and early individualized support, coaching can guide the new leader in shifting fundamental values and developing the practices and relationship skills needed to succeed in the role—and to help others succeed. The author discusses four shared characteristics of scientiﬁc/ engineering professionals that create challenges for them when they take on leadership responsibilities and illustrates two key strategies for successfully transitioning these professionals into leadership roles. She explains the six steps of the leadership development coaching model for deploying these key strategies, and presents coaching case studies of four people’s journeys to become effective leaders. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The vice president of quality leaned across his desk. We had been discussing the common leadership challenges of his direct reports. “One day,” he said emphatically and with a smile, “we should write a book about why it’s so hard for technical people to become effective managers.” I knew what he meant. After 30 years of working within, and consulting to, global technical and scientiﬁc organizations, I had plenty of real-world experiences of the challenges and frustrations that these professionals face when moving into leadership positions. Whether they are engineers working in product design, manufacturing, or quality functions, or scientists working in research and development, or information technology specialists, these new leaders want and need to lead in a way that enables the
JEAN L. HURD
maximum use of science and technology and results in the most effective business decisions. Organizations should take this to heart. In the current economy, strong leadership requires not only setting a good direction and inspiring others, but also creating a culture of innovation and creativity. Without good leadership, especially among scientists (I will use “scientists” in this article to include scientiﬁc and technical professionals), organizations that derive a competitive advantage from knowledge and technology face the very real risk that innovative thinking goes by the wayside at the very time that it is most needed. The bottom-line cost to organizations that fail to develop effective scientiﬁc leaders, simply put, is that people do not have the opportunity to contribute their best thinking:
r r r r r r r r
Opinions are not expressed. Problems are not communicated. Ideas are shot down. Risks are not taken. Opportunities are missed. Ideas are not challenged. Motivation to solve problems declines. Innovation and decision making suffer.
Organizations must recognize both the needs of scientists in assuming leadership roles and the value of leadership development for addressing those needs. While the challenges that each scientist faces are as varied as the individuals are, inﬂuenced by personality, background, culture, and the like, my experience and the research provide evidence that scientists as a group tend to share a unique set of challenges when
c 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) Global Business and Organizational Excellence • DOI: 10.1002/joe.20277 • July/August 2009
’ in academe. you don’t care what happens to another department. research is a calling and the core of their identity. No longer purely a scientist.” Strongly identiﬁed with their expertise.1 Addressing these as part of the transition to the new role and responsibilities will increase the individual’s satisfaction as well as chances of success. academic research. By their very nature.” Here also. scientists are often blindsided by the magnitude of how much of their identity they leave behind when they make the move into management. the core of their r independence in thought and action. and interviews I conducted over the past ﬁve years with scientists at all organizational levels. years in a management role. scientists can be blindsided by the reality of corporate expectations. used successfully with numerous clients and based on personal experience. even after 40 July/August 2009 DOI: 10. where suddenly it’s all about collaboration—listening to the ideas of For many scientists.” “Academic labs are cauldrons of competition—they don’t want you talking to the person next to you. four case studies demonstrate how this model addresses the speciﬁc challenges of scientists and the resulting beneﬁts to both the individuals and their organizations.2 One senior VP described to me just how deep this connection was for him. We doesn’t come into it. not quite a businessperson. from ﬁrst-level managers to senior vice presidents. reinforces this. Independence in Thought and Action r a view of science as a calling.1002/joe Global Business and Organizational Excellence .” r “As for realizing and living as if ‘we are in this together. I write ‘scientist’ on the form. and r technical expertise. Science as a Calling identity. The ﬁrst part of this article describes the unique characteristics of scientists as identiﬁed in the research and speciﬁc leadership challenges articulated by the scientists themselves. To help ensure a scientist’s professional growth as a skilled leader. r love of creativity and exploration. Shared Characteristics of Scientists Research tells us that scientists share several characteristics that are key to being successful as a scientist but can present challenges in their transition to a leadership role: Perhaps nothing contributes to a difﬁcult transition into management as much as the failure of the organization or the scientist to think through what she or he will have to let go of in order to move up the corporate ladder. “When I go through Customs. these former star performers can feel suddenly ineffective and demoralized.moving into management. and the considerable inﬂuence of academe. The second part explains my process of one-on-one leadership development coaching. Finally. That is my identity.3 I heard this again and again in my interviews with scientists: r “We’re trained that it is your ideas. an organization must understand these characteristics in order to create and implement a developmental strategy that addresses the person’s unique needs and challenges while leveraging his or her strengths. scientists tend to be independent thinkers. where most scientists have spent many years studying and perhaps working. Perhaps nothing contributes to a difﬁcult transition into management as much as the failure of the organization or the scientist to think through what she or he will have to let go of in order to move up the corporate ladder.
Corporate Goals people. they want you to be efﬁcient and productive. it feels like a constant balancing act to them: It is not uncommon for a scientist who was hired and valued for her or his technical skills to be promoted.” one interviewee said. 2. and 3. As they have described to me.”4 Love of Creativity vs. In the words of one technical manager. “You get promoted for managing a responsibility technically. ‘Can this person make his people happy?”’ A technical team leader had a related observation in his new role: “It all boils down to your ability to communicate and connect with Scientists discover that responsibility for managing others calls on an entirely new set of skills. this is news to [scientists]. Many consider themselves to be scientists ﬁrst and corporate workers a distant second.5 They can feel caught between two worlds: being seen as a “business thinker” while at the same time motivating the scientists who work for them. and the ability to delegate is by far the most frequently cited challenge in the interviews I conducted. as a reward for technical contributions. and having their judgment respected and accepted. Having “the business conversation.others. into a leadership position—often without any real preparation. being vulnerable and open to asking questions of others. into a leadership position—often without any real preparation. a star. While the latter is challenging for almost any manager. in business. As one researcher writes. “You’re the best scientist.” r “In the scientiﬁc community. As these individuals experience their role requirements changing from individual technical accomplishment to socially skilled leadership. which can stiﬂe creativity. you are asked to step back and let someone else do it.” More speciﬁcally. to the detriment of the needed exchange of varied perspectives and inclusive decision making. interviewees described two aspects of difﬁculty with delegation: (1) letting go of their personal active involvement in the science— “losing touch with the details. “All of a sudden. Collaborating cross-functionally. and then you just get dumped into management. r “A manager’s role is to make sure that things are done efﬁciently. it is the double whammy of also being distanced from the science they love—the loss of much or all of their hands-on involvement in scientiﬁc work—that Global Business and Organizational Excellence DOI: 10. mentioned by managers at all levels. technical expertise on the part of the leader can be perceived by team members or colleagues as intellectual arrogance. people have to be creative. “The fact that you might have to listen to other people if you want to sell them things. Managing Others It is not uncommon for a scientist who was hired and valued for her or his technical skills to be promoted. “The toughest thing in the world is to let go.” and (2) learning to empower and develop their direct reports.1002/joe July/August 2009 41 .” Technical Expertise vs. No one ever asks.6 many quickly discover that they have not developed the people skills critical to effective leadership. Scientists frequently describe being torn between their love of scientiﬁc exploration and the need to meet corporate goals. which feels totally against curiosity and exploring. managing equals. Managing others. as a reward for technical contributions.” When these abilities are lacking. This goes against all that has previously been rewarded—certainty about their own ideas. that’s a problem. If you undervalue that. People Skills The Leadership Challenges for Scientists The characteristics and traits described in the last section lead to three speciﬁc types of leadership challenges for scientists as they transition into management/leadership roles: 1.” one bewildered new manager told me.
makes this particularly challenging for scientists. 2. who may be drawn from other functions. supportive.1002/joe Global Business and Organizational Excellence . especially within the technical areas of the organization: 1. projects are increasingly run by leaders with no direct organizational authority over their team members. As a result. with people from other parts of the organization who have perspectives very different from those of scientists—in the words of one interviewee. Provide early individualized support in developing leadership skills. perhaps for the ﬁrst time. The challenge takes two key forms: Many scientiﬁc professionals describe scientiﬁc creativity and business thinking as opposite ends of a spectrum. the ability to collaborate across organizational boundaries has become a critical skill. Providing Feedback Many scientiﬁc professionals describe scientiﬁc creativity and business thinking as opposite ends of a spectrum.As for the reality that much of their work is now about developing others. in fact. Provide targeted feedback that will lead to selfawareness. “developing the ability to recognize that others have different styles and process information differently than you do” r Developing the ability to inﬂuence others rather than dictate a course of action—articulated by another scientist as “ﬁnding the balance between the surety of my ideas and the need to work as a team. Sometimes the problem is as basic as mastering the language of business. Two key strategies for doing this might seem deceptively simple but are often overlooked or poorly executed. r Simply working closely. or regions. and they ﬁnd it very difﬁcult to learn to move back and forth along this spectrum. are trained—to base their opinions and conclusions on empirical evidence. One described feeling that “I’m a scientist. Two Key Strategies for Transitioning Scientists to Leadership Roles Once organizations understand and recognize the characteristics of scientists and the speciﬁc challenges they face in taking on leadership roles. one VP put it succinctly and ﬁrmly: “Management is being a coach. and global. they can begin to develop these leaders more effectively.” Collaborating Cross-Functionally in marketing and business strategies. thoughtful. Why should I try to contribute to a marketing decision?” Being asked to contribute their critical thinking skills and express their viewpoints outside of their own domain or expertise can seem like an unreasonable (and risky) request to scientists who much prefer—and. It feels amorphous and vague—things that scientists hate. and they ﬁnd it very difﬁcult to learn to move back and forth along this spectrum. You’re not a player anymore. and the independence and certainty of their viewpoint. Two previously noted characteristics hinder scientists in this capacity: their identity of themselves as a scientist. more team-based. units.” As organizations become ﬂatter. One director articulated how this felt to her: “The challenge in talking to the business is that words mean different things. listening to others and questioning for full understanding” Having “The Business Conversation” Another challenge for scientists is to actively engage in strategic meetings and other types of business discussions. There is a fuzziness The ability to provide effective feedback that is speciﬁc. and actionable may be the most important skill an organization can 42 July/August 2009 DOI: 10.
” having had a manager (or mentor. as well as a certain amount of interpersonal skill to deliver the information in a constructive fashion. but they know what they are doing. underscoring how often this critical part of the personal development process is absent. But no matter how constructive or actionable the feedback. In the Global Business and Organizational Excellence DOI: 10. which may be “easier to hear” but in fact are not helpful to the recipient or actionable. in my experience.” Instilling a feedback culture. Instilling a feedback culture. It was stunning how often VP-level leaders. Some interviewees said they had received performance feedback. Giving effective feedback is not easy. the most intense and sometimes wrenching changes that scientists experience in taking on management roles occur during their transition into the ﬁrst two levels of leadership. Their use of the word “lucky” is key here. and the mere possibility of an emotional situation. or desire to provide the sort of clear and concrete feedback that is required to help someone to grow as a leader. time. said they were “very lucky. But even more signiﬁcant is the major shift in values they must navigate to become successful managers.1002/joe July/August 2009 43 . which.” They have a point. and perhaps not even an expectation in many organizations. Providing Early Individualized Support In my experience. In some cases. the person sensed that something was wrong but was unclear as to what. but it was so general as to be unclear about the required action or change. or staff member) early on who gave them honest feedback. This is partly because they need to develop the core relationship skills required in the new role. where everyone in the system becomes skilled in giving and receiving constructive feedback. I don’t really have to tell them”—the employee is almost always completely unaware of the performance problems that others perceive.nurture in its leaders. as described earlier. can be a very valuable initiative for an organization to undertake. when asked what had most contributed to their success. can be experienced as confusing changes in identity and difﬁculty ﬁnding personal value and satisfaction in getting work done through others rather than being the expert themselves. the person giving them feedback was unable to be speciﬁc enough for the feedback to be meaningful and actionable. “What people end up telling you you’ve done is always different from what you think you’ve done. Much has been written about this in the business literature. But contrary to the sentiment (frequently) expressed by supervisors—“Oh. and no role modeling existed to make it safe to ask. or to dilute their feedback into nonthreatening generalities. It requires an investment in time to make careful observations so that the feedback can be sufﬁciently detailed to be actionable. even if they attempted to get clariﬁcation. coach. where everyone in the system becomes skilled in giving and receiving constructive feedback. but unfortunately.” As one interviewee said ruefully. This was also conﬁrmed in my interviews with scientists and technical professionals in managerial roles. can be a very valuable initiative for an organization to undertake. If the person does eventually receive some speciﬁc and detailed feedback. Uncertainty about what the recipient’s reaction will be. Often. many managers do not have the skills. So often I have had managers explain their reluctance to engage in this dialogue with their employees as “I don’t want to get into a conﬂict” or “I don’t know how the person will react. delivering it can still feel like a very risky endeavor to many managers. it is usually followed up with a wide-eyed “I had no idea that I was coming across that way. is enough to prompt some managers to entirely avoid giving any feedback. trusted peer.
Such individuals are unable to function effectively in any direction.words of one scientiﬁc manager.9 Leadership and management training can provide an individual with valuable information and awareness. if promoted to the next level (which can and does happen). Lacking the self-awareness of their own leadership gaps. while individualized leadership development is valuable at any level. what process or practices can organizations deploy to implement these strategies? We have seen earlier in this article that even in situations where individuals have gotten some feedback. they cannot support or be a role model for their ﬁrst-level managers. may never resolve the fundamental values dilemma or learn the basic people skills important for success at not only this but the next management levels in the organization.” But globalization. and it’s not going to be anything about the work that I do—it’s going to be completely about the personal relationships.10 44 July/August 2009 DOI: 10. and even manage across organizational boundaries. through both direct actions and role modeling that cascades and inspires others. through both direct actions and role modeling that cascades and inspires others. And most problematic. effective interpersonal skills have become more critical earlier in one’s scientiﬁc career. The organizational ramiﬁcations of failing to do this can ripple far beyond the individual scientist. and the sooner such leaders are developed. but successful application of the information to actual work situations requires experience-based learning. It is hard to exaggerate the extent of the problem this creates. what or how to change. It is likewise hard to exaggerate the beneﬁts of early leadership development. and the formation of cross-functional teams much earlier in project cycles now require that people further down in the organization communicate. An unprepared second-level manager becomes a signiﬁcant bottleneck in the system.8 Leadership Development Coaching If targeted feedback and individualized support are two key strategies for grooming scientists to become good managers. from problem solver to motivator.7 Thus. the person is still thinking and acting as a tactical individual contributor. Research has shown that adults learn best when they can apply abstract concepts to immediate situations of personal importance to the learner. A ﬁrst-level scientiﬁc manager who does not receive support for the shift from technical to people skills. the more the organization beneﬁts from all that they can contribute. The skills of an effective leader radiate in all directions.1002/joe Global Business and Organizational Excellence . Although two levels removed from the work. ﬂatter organizational structures. the support it supplies to scientists is most critical in the early stages of building leadership skills.” Thus. “Now I’m aware of the next couple of levels up. they are unable to coach or develop appropriate skills or work values in those who report to them. is now responsible for helping managerial reports develop leadership skills that he or she never learned. and the sooner such leaders are developed. Such a manager. the more the organization beneﬁts from all that they can contribute. there is now increased attention to beginning this skills development at academic and research institutes so that scientists enter the corporate world with some level of awareness in this area. In fact. they often have no idea of what to do with it—how to address it. allowing managers and individuals lower in the technical organization to remain comfortably in their “silo. As one VP disclosed. cooperate.” The skills of an effective leader radiate in all directions. Potentially good ﬁrst-level managers are derailed before they even get started. Cross-functional/-unit participation and collaboration used to be an expectation only at the higher management levels. Now I look for the person under whom people have blossomed. “I used to look for the best technical talent to promote. from science to business.
as outlined in Exhibit 1. as described earlier.” and are not “alone. Following this. Although this process can produce good results for managers at any organizational level. within the context of the client’s personal experience and situation. Step 1. with the “data” in this case being observable behaviors. It is not unusual for this to be the ﬁrst time the manager has provided this level of feedback to the individual. the six-step Leadership Development Coaching Process is analogous in many ways to the scientiﬁc method. education about useful tools and techniques. An objective here is to collect as many speciﬁc examples of speciﬁc situations as possible that illuminate the issues facing the client. as well as the operational environment and how it impacts the client. It Global Business and Organizational Excellence DOI: 10. have found leadership development coaching to be a particularly valuable solution for improving the leadership performance and personal development of scientists and technical professionals. the process can be seen by a potential participant as less mysterious or threatening.” In a joint meeting with the coach and client. Gather Feedback and Assessment Data To provide a framework for the work to come. While this may sound like “stating the obvious.” what the shift into a management or leadership position means for technical professionals has often not been explicitly communicated to them. Almost always.. encouragement. As we have seen. managers ﬁnd it particularly challenging to give and frequently avoid doing so. and direction over time—to enable the individual to integrate learnings into day-to-day realities. Intentional observing and experimenting are core to learning to be a great leader. and consequently the effectiveness of their organizations. Presented as such. The Process “Science is all about observing and experimenting. When it is negative. and recognizing that leadership challenges are real and to be expected.e. the client’s manager clariﬁes the operational goals of the coaching and his or her expectation of the coaching outcome (i. Similarities Between the Scientiﬁc Method and the Leadership Development Coaching Process Scientiﬁc Method Problem/Question Observation/Research Formulate a Hypothesis Experiment Collect and Analyze Results Draw Conclusions → → → → → → Coaching Process State the broad objective Gather feedback and assessment data Develop goals and action steps Experiment with new behaviors Note and discuss outcomes Conduct formal assessment and intentions for the future learn they are not “crazy” or “unusual. Step 2. the coach starts the process with an explicit discussion of the characteristics and challenges of scientists. reﬂection. giving speciﬁc feedback is not common practice. In fact. the client’s behavioral changes). and ongoing support—including challenge. it is intended primarily for those just entering or relatively new to the leadership pipeline. even when the feedback is positive. Leadership development coaching combines one-on-one feedback. the manager and coach meet separately to delve deeply into the manager’s perceptions of the client’s strengths and challenges. The emphasis is on valuing and leveraging those characteristics. clients are hugely relieved to Gathering feedback and assessment data about the individual’s strengths and his or her speciﬁc leadership challenges is essential to the process.I and my clients.1002/joe July/August 2009 45 . and the large knowledge-driven companies that employ many of them. State the Broad Objective Exhibit 1. and what else is there in the management of people? So we should be great at it!” The scientist who said this to me had a solid point.
“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.1002/joe Global Business and Organizational Excellence . From the stories told by interviewees emerge pictures of the client’s behavior that have enough speciﬁcity to create true “Aha” moments of understanding and insight.) provide the client with a basis for understanding his or her own behavior as well as that of others. or has been unaware of how to practically apply the insights to actual situations. the client works with the coach to craft speciﬁc development goals. it must be as situational as possible. but it turns out I am viewed as controlling and didactic. The individual brings speciﬁc upcoming situations where experimentation can take place. instruments and models for understanding differences in personality and leadership style (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. “I thought I was being very open. Frequently the individual has had one or more of these assessments prior to coaching but most often has not internalized the information to make it meaningful and useful.” Individuals often cite the input from the 360-degree interviews as the most valuable part of the coaching process for them. and support to set the stage for signiﬁcant change in Step 4. and always with an emphasis on leveraging and building on innate strengths. and how will I manage them? When this is clear. and always with an emphasis on leveraging and building on innate strengths. Steps 4 and 5. The coach and client analyze the feedback and assessment data to identify common threads and determine their implications for gaps in leadership skills and competencies. For feedback to be meaningful.” The process of diagnosis and planning in Steps 1 through 3 can provide sufﬁcient data. For each goal. this feedback step is the ﬁrst time they become aware of the nature of the challenges they face in order to be successful in their new role. Note and Discuss Outcomes nization beneﬁt? and by participating in the process? As the old saying (from engineer and inventor Charles Kettering) goes. speciﬁc action steps are developed for each goal. The key source here is 360-degree interviews. Step 3. reﬂection. etc. Develop Goals and Action Steps results are sustained. Root-cause thinking helps to narrow the goals to the key one to three expected to have the greatest positive impact across the broadest spectrum of needs. the individual takes time to reﬂect on the following questions and clarify his or her understanding of what each will entail: r How will my work group and the broader orgar What will I personally gain by achieving this goal r What will I have to give up? r What obstacles might I encounter. Step 4 is where the rubber meets the road. and that the 46 July/August 2009 DOI: 10. the coach introduces (or reintroduces from Armed with this new self-awareness. Situational Leadership. clariﬁcation. Accordingly. Experiment With New Behaviors. self-awareness.provides a foundation for self-awareness and for understanding the (sometimes radically different) styles of others. the interviewees are carefully selected to ensure a comprehensive picture of the client’s effectiveness with his or her key stakeholders. Root-cause thinking helps to narrow the goals to the key one to three expected to have the greatest positive impact across the broadest spectrum of needs. These blend performance needs with personal goals to ensure that the individual has enthusiasm for and commitment to the action plan. Depending upon the situation. One scientist commented with a wry smile. In addition. For some individuals.
models. Sam told me that he had just learned that his people Global Business and Organizational Excellence DOI: 10. some later on. The two then discuss how to apply the tools/techniques to the upcoming situation. Speciﬁc next steps are planned. individual can integrate the learnings. group facilitation. Step 6. The Coaching Engagement. motivating others— whatever the need may be.1002/joe July/August 2009 47 . But in all the cases. This practice leverages an innate strength that most scientists already have: the curiosity and ability to objectively observe a phenomenon to learn about its nature and behavior. opinionated. feedback from others. He was viewed as rigid. speciﬁc. and what didn’t are all noted and discussed in the coaching sessions so that the Sam was a ﬁrst-level R&D manager who was still operating like a bench scientist. In our ﬁrst meeting. The individual begins to model for others the kind of open communication and willingness to learn that is critical to organizational effectiveness. what worked. The individual also creates personal feedback loops. real-time application of new approaches in situations of immediate concern is key for adult learning. and so on. These feedback loops not only support the individual’s personal process but also set the stage for instilling this openness to feedback in others. In Step 5. the observable behaviors and their explicit impact. the individual develops a habit of “people” observation. This previously “nice guy” now had reports who were frustrated and demotivated. or performance management support. They modify the action plan. of both self and others. we help the individual to apply this skill to people and interactions. he was not delegating. and had a “closeddoor” policy. telling as many people as is comfortable (but an absolute minimum of one trusted person) what he or she is working on in the coaching process and enlisting them to provide immediate. Sam Armed with a willingness to try out new behaviors and skills.previous trainings) tools. In the case of leadership developmental coaching. giving and receiving feedback. The HR manager was looking for in-depth personal assistance for him. observations. A formal assessment of progress at regular intervals (usually three months) draws on feedback from brief selected 360-degree follow-up interviews. Case Studies In the following four examples of actual leadership development coaching engagements. paying attention to the process as well as the content of day-to-day interactions—what exactly is happening with the people involved. inﬂuencing. techniques. and the process of experimentation continues as needed. situational feedback. and the coach meets jointly with the individual and his or her manager to gauge progress and the effectiveness of actions to date. meeting management. if necessary. the process provided the clients a profound revelation or insight that energized them for the sometimes-hard work of learning new skills and experimenting with new behaviors in order to become more effective leaders. Sam’s manager also had poor management skills and was unable to provide role modeling. each scientist (whose real name has been changed here) experienced a true “Aha” moment at a different stage in the coaching process—some early. Conduct Formal Assessment and Intentions for the Future Real-time application of new approaches in situations of immediate concern is key for adult learning. and approaches the client can use for communication. insights. According to the HR manager. was taking credit for his direct reports’ work. and outline explicit intentions and actions for the individual’s ongoing development. and defensive by his peers. coaching. As mentioned earlier.
had been unaware of a problem with his performance. By the end of the coaching engagement. an expert with a sterling reputation and respect in his ﬁeld. He simply was not aware of what the expectations for him in his new role were. and come to mutually acceptable decisions. working in collaboration with the organizational development group. His attitude is “This is my baby—I know it. While he understood in the abstract what “management” meant. He so much embraced his transition from bench scientist to manager that he went on to become engaged in leadership development events within R&D. Sam’s reports felt that he was an advocate for them— personally and professionally—rather than a competitor. He wanted very much to be successful in the role but believed success would come from demonstrating his technical expertise. He was stunned. He was open and eager for more feedback. Gary. This was Sam’s “Aha” moment. Don’t challenge my expertise. he effectively “outgrew” the managers above him. an MD/PhD who was an associate director in medical affairs for a large pharmaceutical company. His peers reported that he was able to bring his expertise to the team meetings without shutting others off. Sam’s reports felt that he was an advocate for them—personally and professionally—rather than a competitor. and that he was able to listen to conﬂicting views. he is arrogant and dismissive to those who disagree with him or who he perceives as having less stature. he did not know how that translated into his speciﬁc personal actions and behaviors. he was an excellent communicator. and participating as a like Sam in the previous case. to start learning to apply some of the management concepts he had gotten in a training course a few years before. he is a successful senior director at another company. who genuinely cared about the people he worked with. with strong interpersonal skills. The situational feedback from 360-degree interviews with his peers as part of Step 2 of the coaching process revealed to Gary that he needed to be less 48 July/August 2009 DOI: 10. Unfortunately. He found ways to promote them to others in the organization. He is actually great at managing people in his own area. accept disagreement without personalizing it or becoming defensive. His success had always come from being the expert in whatever he did. but in cross-functional settings. Gary Gary. right there in Step 1 of the process. Gary’s background in research and private practice had not prepared him for his team leadership role. presenter in change management workshops. I’ll do it. and ensured they were acknowledged and rewarded for their contributions. and to learn tools and techniques to improve his communication and leadership skills. But he is alienating people so badly that they can’t work with him. was having difﬁculty leading a critical crossfunctional product development effort. and in frustration he left the organization. His VP presented the issue this way: This guy is brilliant. Four years later. Coaching Outcome.had been complaining about him to his manager for the past four years. and made rapid progress.” The VP felt that he had tried to explain these issues to Gary but acknowledged that he had not been very speciﬁc. By the end of the coaching engagement.1002/joe Global Business and Organizational Excellence . In our ﬁrst meeting. In his area of expertise. He brought a high level of commitment to all the steps in the coaching engagement. but no one had ever given him the feedback. The paradox was how much of that went out the window when he was put in the lead of a crossfunctional process. The Coaching Engagement. They were pleased and motivated.
In the follow-up 360-degree in- terviews near the end of the coaching engagement. But once he’d made his decision. Furthermore. deliberately giving subordinates and peers more exposure and ownership. Bill had received conﬂict- In the follow-up 360-degree interviews near the end of the coaching engagement. acknowledging and valuing others.” and was “very generous.of an expert and more “one of the team. meeting management. Gary’s peers reported a signiﬁcant change in his behavior. ing feedback in 360-degree assessments over the years.” might respond harshly. which were conﬁrmed in my interviews as part of Step 2 in the coaching process. Everyone agreed. he was very open to input. In Step 3 of the coaching process. once they reﬂected on it. Bill came to understand that his problem was not about listening but about inﬂuencing.” the organizational ladder and ﬁnally into a C-suite position. The Coaching Engagement. he was relieved to be able to let go of trying to control everything and start engaging others. Bill. His style had became much more inclusive. an essential element of his senior-level role. that Bill had two sides. and not personalize it and get all rufﬂed. I simply trust him more.” of “we’re all in this together. It was agreed that Bill. But two conﬂicting views of Bill—the ﬁrst that he was “an outstanding listener” who “really draws people into open discussions” and the second that he “could be very harsh. involving a broad group of people in lively discussion and listening to all points of view. and close off any further discussion. In many ways. “He can take feedback now. broader role. he’d announce it with no explanation of his rationale. Bill Bill was a high-performing executive with a strong technical background who had been promoted up Global Business and Organizational Excellence DOI: 10. he was shutting down dialogue and the ability for someone to raise new The effort he was leading resulted in a successful submission to the Food and Drug Administration six months later. as “the expert. cutting people off at the knees who disagreed with him” and needed to “listen better”— raised a warning ﬂag as a potential derailer in his new position.” Another said. The company was able to continue leveraging his expertise even as it beneﬁted from his newfound ability to facilitate and lead critical cross-functional initiatives. Coaching Outcomes. He realized that the depth of the anger and resentment that people felt about how he treated them in those situations was causing push-back in the implementation of decisions—he was losing valuable support and undermining his own efforts. although not new to the role of leader. In team meetings. or managing team dynamics—all of which were essential to him as leader of the crossfunctional initiative if he were to elicit the best contributions from everyone on the team. where he was much more engaged in making decisions that had impact across functions. Gary’s peers reported a signiﬁcant change in his behavior. .1002/joe July/August 2009 49 . . he was given leadership of a critical new product development effort. we worked to get to the root of this one listening issue and its implications for his effectiveness as a leader. The question then became what were the speciﬁc situations in which he displayed each behavior. seeming to take the question as a personal insult. What emerged was a clear differentiation: When Bill was working to arrive at a decision. Following that. The dismissive behavior was gone—as several peers described it. he had an air of “humility.” and he was suddenly able to see his role from their perspective. He understandably had never developed the fundamental skills needed for facilitation. . might beneﬁt from the leadership development coaching in his new. he let others take the stage. If a peer or advisor questioned if their concerns had been adequately taken into account.
I told myself I would not offer opinions or solutions. “You aren’t listening to me. I was amazed to ﬁnd that not only was there an alternate approach. rather than just taking “the Quality view. 50 July/August 2009 DOI: 10. solicit. and promote the ideas and perspectives of her clients—a common issue for technical experts but a requirement of her as a director so that she could ﬁnd solutions that accommodated her clients’ needs as well as met quality standards. As Carla tells it: I got wind that an internal client was unhappy about a quality decision. I would have believed my decision to be the “necessary and correct one” and done nothing.” and she was exasperated that her clients felt she wasn’t listening. were telling her. The 360-degree feedback ment ended. in part. In the meeting. Several days later. and checked in with them. Carla began to experiment with a new approach for how she responded to the ideas of others. The minute he understood this. Bill was noticing when people had unspoken concerns. About a year later. he was chosen to be a key contributor to the change management process in a major acquisition. a relatively new director of quality and compliance at a large company who had been highly respected as a quality expert. a solid afﬁrmation that his new skills had cemented his position as an inﬂuential senior leader in the company. but it was also really good for the business! The client called me the next day and said the meeting “was transformational. I proactively called the client and asked to get together for the sole purpose of listening and fully understanding his concerns.1002/joe Global Business and Organizational Excellence . and not only would it work from a quality standpoint. I also took along two of my peers so that we all would get the same understanding. He soon saw that taking that extra time was paying off down the road in people’s increased engagement and buyin. He told me what transpired was “a very different Even before the coaching engagement ended. Bill was noticing when people had unspoken concerns. This time. Previously. the VP. Carla Carla. She admitted that her internal clients. hoping the disagreement would just go away. He applied his new skills to being a more effective coach to his reports. ways that reﬂected how much he valued and considered each point of view in the process. But her superiors were looking to her in her role as director to generate “more engagement” and open discussion in strategy meetings in order to ensure that everyone was aligned on the right decisions for the business. In Step 4 of the coaching process. and to summarize what I had heard to be sure I was clear.” In talking this out together in our meetings. helped to clarify that her internal clients and peers wanted Carla to be more open to alternate views and opportunities for innovative thinking. learning to value. I was sure that what the client wanted would not work. colleagues in the functions her department served or partnered with. and checked in with them. Coaching Outcomes. But I stuck with the experiment and used the technique I learned in the coaching process of speaking only to question for clarity and understanding.” I advocated the new view to my manager. was eager to be a seen as a valued contributor to board decisions pertaining to a very signiﬁcant project in which she was currently involved. and had to really bite my tongue several times as I was about to cut him off. however.issues or information that might rightfully affect the decision or its implementation. By the end of the meeting.” But she had no idea what her superiors meant by “more engagement. Carla came to realize that this meant. Even before the coaching engage- The Coaching Engagement. he advocated that viewpoint at the board meeting where the issue—which had great risk and huge ﬁnancial implications for the company—was being discussed. and in the establishment of a healthy ﬂow of dialogue. he was eager to learn strategies to more effectively communicate decisions.
A. 132. the individuals were extremely bright. R. 9. Hurd PhD. See note 2. 15. feedback. education. & Brajkovich. Houston. B.. A. respected for their expertise. Ibid. 86–94. (1998). Management development for scientists and engineers. Notes 1. all obtained valuable insights into their leadership challenges. Summary Organizations thrive one effective leader at a time. Knowles. But they had moved into new leadership challenges and were now operating in ways that were counterproductive. and a climate to support innovation. Bill. their teams. 10. Pearson. A. Feedback and individualized support got these careers back on track. & Swanson. Cell. Transforming scientists into managers. and information technology ﬁrms—with academic research in adult and organizational development. Managing to excel at science. (2004). In all the cases. The right stuff. Training to manage across silos. 911–913.1002/joe July/August 2009 51 . TX: Gulf Publishing. Scientiﬁc and technical leaders have a particularly critical role to play in ensuring that valuable expertise is nurtured and fully leveraged. 2. engineering. P. 5. Research Technology Management. clarity about their innate strengths. effective cross-functional collaboration resulting in successful problem solving. She can be reached at jean@jeanhurd. for both their personal success and for the achievement of operational goals. (1993). with a positive impact on the individuals. By understanding the unique characteristics and challenges of these leaders. & Swain. The length of the engagements described in the cases of Sam. one she was able to build on in more experiments with new behaviors related to her goals of listening and engagement in order to stimulate everyone’s best thinking about solutions that would beneﬁt the business. Aschwanden. Coaching Outcome. 4. 20–25. (2008). as everyone agreed. This experiment represented a profound learning for Carla.com. 23.conversation. 50–58. organizations can support their success. They were either unaware of or unclear about the behaviors that were blocking their success. and Carla ranged from three months to a year and a half. E.. Holton. when in their comfort zone.). (1999).” and it resulted. L. B.. 33–34. 36. (2001). is a leadership consultant and coach. C. Pharmaceutical Executive. The Scientist. Reynes.). Pharmaceutical Executive. Her approach to individualized leadership development blends her years of line and management experience—including her early work in the design and implementation of crossfunctional information systems within pharmaceutical. Zuckerman. and their organizations. Tyrrell. The result is motivated and engaged employees. Sapienza. (2003). and early support is key. Research Technology Management. An individualized approach that includes Jean L. Through 360-degree feedback.. M. The adult learner: The deﬁnitive classic in adult education and human resource development (5th ed. 8. Gary. New York: WileyLiss. Managing scientists: Leadership strategies in scientiﬁc research (2nd ed. These leaders facilitate open communication and the ability of others to contribute their best thinking. and personable. Managing the innovator. 20. M. 7. pp. and insights that were translated into action plans they were excited to implement. in a substantial win-win for the business. 6. (2000). R. 42. 45–49. Global Business and Organizational Excellence DOI: 10. Brickley. 3.
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