When I was an Organizational Development Consultant working with one of Canada’s major banks I came across a senior executive who had an aspect to his personality that I just knew was going to make the change initiative I was working on difficult to implement. It wasn’t that he was against the change – in fact far from it, he was the one insisting on the change and for good business reasons. The challenge was that his vision, passion for success and hard driving attitude, which had led him to his senior executive position in the first place, had the potential to scuttle a change initiative that required a large and diverse group of employees to buy-in to and execute.
An employee’s acceptance and implementation of change will happen much faster if they believe that their interests are being considered throughout the process. Yet hard driving executives can appear to not be listening if they attempt to implement change too quickly without considering the implications for others. And let’s face it; most employees who work under this type of executive won’t share their feedback when they think a plan is going to go sideways because the senior person is driving too hard and fast.
So how does a young OD Consultant point out potential pitfalls in a change execution to a SVP at one of Canada’s largest banks particularly when he believes that the pitfalls stem from the SVP himself? By ever so carefully pointing out that “strength is weakness”. This simple phrase helped to explain to the SVP that there was an aspect of his personality that in some circumstances was a magnificent strength yet if not understood and managed when necessary could become an Achilles heel in a different context.
But we all know this, right? The concept of strength is weakness is not difficult to understand. So why did this SVP not pick up on this himself? It appears that what is more challenging than understanding the concept is gaining a complete and objective understanding of our own unique characteristics, and how those characteristics play out in reality.
With the insight gained from some constructive feedback the SVP made some subtle yet powerful adjustments to his behavior when it served his change goal aspirations. In formal presentations he added a little humor and some specific stories about individuals within the branch network, highlighting how the upcoming changes were going to affect them. Sometimes when speaking with individuals he would consciously ask for their input and opinion. He didn’t change as a person. He continued to leverage his hard driving nature when it served him well. But he did all of this more consciously and it helped to make the change initiative a success faster than anyone would have predicted.
The morale of the story is that if you are in a leadership position, the strengths that got you there may hinder your efforts to go further and chances are that the people around you will not give you the feedback you may desperately need. Don’t leave it to chance. Seek out some form of feedback from a trusted colleague, a coach or a feedback assessment tool. Not only will it point out potential challenges for your current role, it will also highlight strengths that you can leverage into your future roles.
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