Dear Coach Alan:
I have an executive, Charlie, who is up for promotion. While he is talented and productive, he is also polarizing and is perceived by his peers as highly emotional and full of bravado. He can be irritating and, at times, self-destructive. This executive has an important role to play in our organization. I would like to keep him. What can I do to “save” him?
Using a balance sheet to change behavior
In describing Charlie, you have described some of the attributes of what I would call a “personal balance sheet.” This is a good beginning to create a strategy for “saving” Charlie. We all have a balance sheet of assets and liabilities. Our goal should be to leverage our assets to get the most out of them and to manage our liabilities to minimize their negative effects. In your Charlie’s case, his personal style seems to be the problem. While he appears to be an achiever, he also demonstrates negative behavioral tendencies.
The first thing I would do is to describe the behavioral expectations for Charlie. How would you like him to behave? Ideally, what should his peer relationships look like? His role should be described clearly and communicated to him so he is aware of your organization’s expectations of him. To provide him with a contrast, I would recommend that you offer him examples of the behaviors that you describe as irritating and self-destructive. Once this gap has been established, Charlie needs to know that it is up to him to close it gap if he expects to be successful in your company.
At this point, you need to decide whether you will assign an internal or external coach to facilitate Charlie’s change in behavior. In my experience, you are more likely to achieve success by bringing in a coach with experience in behavioral change. If Charlie truly wants to change his behavior, he will appreciate your investing in a coach to help him to achieve this change.
There are several approaches that may help Charlie to change. One I will offer here is to recreate experiences where he demonstrated the negative behaviors you described. By reflecting on this behavior, Charlie should become aware of the negative consequences that resulted from his behavior. Then, Charlie can reach into his assets to identify how he could have acted differently by using his assets (e.g., achievement). If Charlie can “reframe” his interactions using his assets to guide him, he will identify alternative behaviors that have a greater likelihood of not only managing his liabilities but moving him closer to his goal of adopting more constructive relationships.
I call this approach “reflective learning.” Essentially, it encourages Charlie to re-analyze his behavior through a different lens, using an asset to guide him. The success of this approach is predicated on the ease with which Charlie can reframe similar situations using his assets rather than directly trying to alter his negative behavior. By substituting an asset for a liability, the chances of success go up.
In sum, Charlie needs to save himself. Your role is simply to provide him some coaching support that will facilitate this change.