Micromanagement and lack of voice
Following his arrival in a new role, a leader had been struggling with what he experienced as his line manager’s micromanagement and feeling like he had no voice. His line manager seemed to constantly present himself as being right, inviting no other views and not creating opportunity to reflect together, to work things through together, to bring alternative views.
The leader felt stifled and unheard, and reflected on a lack of trust in both directions: he experienced his line manager’s attitude as lacking in trust for him, and he too lacked trust in his line manager. He felt he couldn’t count on his line manager. A creative, experienced and highly engaged individual, his sense was of not being acknowledged for the significant value that he brought to help address challenging situations that needed resourcefulness and new ideas.
He felt isolated, and was beginning to get so disillusioned and distressed that he was wondering if the job (which hadn’t been an easy one to land, in a highly competitive environment, and which he’d started out by being highly enthused by) was right for him. While there was no overt conflict, this leader felt an abrasion in the relationship which was beginning to feel like conflict.
Vision, purpose and passion
In coaching we worked on the definition and articulation of his vision (so that he got clearer about his aspirations and his direction), his purpose (which reinforced for him why his role energised him and what was meaningful about it) and his courage (which he amplified and implemented into bolder actions and experiments). These were important steps on his path, which boosted his motivation in important ways.
Nevertheless, his relationship with his line manager didn’t feel any healthier or more fruitful. He still felt significantly alone, unseen and unsupported.
Compassion and humility
Things started to shift when he started to give attention in the coaching process to compassion for his line manager and the benefit of bringing more humility to the relationship.
In a lightbulb moment he was shocked to realise that he, too, was behaving somewhat like his line manager in his interactions with his own team – acknowledging notably that he often believed he knew best or knew the right answer, and gave that to team members with an expectation of implementation, without inviting their views or alternative perspectives. He realised a possible connection with the fact that his team members seemed rarely to offer any opinions or to take initiative.
In mirroring his line manager’s behaviour, he reflected wryly on how easy it was not to see – indeed to be blind to – his own behaviour and his impact on others.
Reflections and experiments
What do we need in order to take off the blinkers to our behaviour and our impact? What can open us up and help us grow? What allows us to relax the tension in our minds and bodies so that we see more clearly? What can we usefully reflect from our environment? How can we creatively revisit the imprinted – and perhaps fossilised – messages from long-ago experiences?
There are a multitude of ways to address situations like this, and to usefully manage our own behaviours. Perhaps the most significant is the very first step: to become more insightful and aware in the present moment, in situations where others’ behaviours grate on us, upset us, demotivate us or anger us. Key questions include what are the patterns that we might discern in those situations – and importantly, what and who do they remind us of – and are there any senses in which we’re reminded of our own behaviour (a self-questioning process which of itself might take courage and humility)?
It can then be fruitful to step back and take different perspectives – the perspectives of others involved somehow in the situation, alternative ways of thinking and behaving, reflections on the possible drivers of those thinking patterns and behaviours. What might we be curious to experiment with? How might we use language in positive terms rather than negative terms?
And when we detach in this way, we can more easily become aware of what might be reflected back to us from both others’ behaviour and our own. Might there be anything to learn from what we see in the mirror?