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Lessons in Transparency: Part 2

Seeing is believing. And unless changes you commit to are observable to you and the stakeholders who have a stake in your improving as a leader, they are no more than good intentions

In Lessons in Transparency — Part 1 you learned how confronting a CEO on behaviors that caused his people to lose trust, confidence and respect for him grabbed his attention and had much more impact than prior 360 reviews. Once key people can get their shared but unspoken frustrations off their chest, once they can feel the relief when a CEO takes these seriously but not personally, and once they can feel safe when he takes responsibility for his shortcomings instead of retaliating, the entire group collectively exhales and people open their minds. What can a CEO do when given a second chance by his people to be the leader they and he wants himself to be?

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Committing to being better at listening, delegating, and consensus building amounts to no more than empty words unless this can be pared down to specific, observable behaviors. Without this important and critical step, the gap between your self-evaluation of your progress versus that of your stakeholders is large enough to encourage your company’s culture to disintegrate.

Marshall Goldsmith , another contributor to Fast Company, and one of the world’s preeminent executive coaches, has written about the need to have input from stakeholders (superiors, peers, subordinates inside your company and clients, customers and vendors from outside) be distilled into observable behaviors that can be measured. This is so both the leader being coached and his stakeholders can agree when success has been reached. Chris Coffey and Frank Wagner are the key architects in turning Goldsmith’s ideas into an airtight, bullet proof and simple but not easy process for already successful people to become even more successful by improving their non-technical skills. Because let’s face it, in a ‘Flat World’ (to quote Tom Friedman ), anything technical is not just a commodity, but can potentially be outsourced.

As Coffey says, “This is not for the faint of heart. To succeed at long term positive and measurable behavioral change requires a level of courage and discipline that even few high performers possess. It is aimed at high performers because they are used to having the bar continually raised on them and then meeting or beating those targets. Mediocre performers are almost never up to such a challenge.” The amount of courage and discipline to succeed at such change is up there with stopping drinking, smoking, losing weight and staying on the wagon. As with those self-defeating habits, the proof is in the doing. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “There is no trying, only doing.”

Coffey and Wagner are masters at taking words such as communication, collaboration and delegation, and distilling them into actionable, observable and measurable behaviors. Rather than merely saying you’re going to collaborate or delegate better, use the chart below (as provided by Coffey with other resources available at his site and track it.

For instance, under “delegating,” look at the days of the week and check off each day you:

  1. Told someone what you needed them to do, when you needed them to do it, and why it was important to a current strategy (the third part helps distinguish treating someone as a respected and valued part of a team instead of a mere impersonal function.)
  2. Asked them to verbally tell you what you asked them to do, by when and why (to both deepen their commitment and reveal whether they heard and understood you)
  3. Asked them what they might need to stop doing to get it done (to see if you have to intervene with one of their other “bosses” and free up that person’s time)

At the end of the week place a check in “Exceed” if you perform these steps every time you delegate something; place a check in “Satisfied” of you perform them at least once daily but not consistently to the same people (you’re performing the behavior daily, but not yet across the board); place a check in “Below” when you do the steps 3 or fewer times a week and do not perform all three parts of the delegation behavior.

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You will find another example of specific, observable behavior on the chart below regarding “collaborating.”

Did you.… M T W T F S S Below Satisfied Exceed
Delegating Tell person what, when
and why delegating
something
Ask them to tell you
what you said to them
to make certain they
heard it correctly
Ask about their other
responsibilities to help
them free up enough
time to do what you
ask them to do.
Collaborating Defer to someone else’s
POV
Consciously think “do I
need to say this” before
speaking
Consciously choose not
to speak

As with the other bad habits listed previously, try as they might, high performers still fall “off the wagon” in non-technical behaviors they are trying to improve. Coffey smiles as he relates this as one of his favorite moments in coaching. Rather than trying to convince or hard sell his clients on recommitting themselves, or enabling them with too much, “let them off the hook,” understanding, he instead says, “I think you’re right about stopping our work, because my gut told me when we first started that you had neither the courage nor the discipline to be successful at it. And I wanted to thank you for helping me to trust my gut so that in the future I don’t make the same mistake again and agree to coach someone like you.”

What happens? Most of the time these high performers are so offended that they demand a second chance. Coffey reluctantly gives it to them, but he explains with a smile, “They’re on probation.”