Dear Coach Alan,
I am the CEO of a growing service company. My role is to network with potential customers and keep us strategically focused. A couple of years ago, I reorganized my team and promoted one of my executives to be our COO. His role is to run the day to day operations. Recently, I have gotten complaints about the COO from one of his executives, who is feeling stifled. He is complaining that the COO is too controlling, and he is feeling a lack of support for what he is trying to accomplish. Others who report to the COO seem to be satisfied with their relationship. The executive who is complaining is very talented, and I don’t want to lose him. How can I help my COO to improve this relationship?
The need to control is common to many task-oriented executives. They perceive their role as achieving goals, and they sometimes push their team members rather than lead them. Let me clarify this statement. Effective leaders try to bring out the best in their people. They understand that different people have different needs, and they try to individualize their approach with each executive. In your situation, it appears that your COO is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to leading his team. This has created tension between him and at least one executive who seems to need more autonomy and support from his leader.
You can help your COO by helping him to become aware of how his leadership style is creating tension that is counterproductive for one of his executives. The challenge to your COO is whether he will be able to work with an executive who rejects his controlling style. My questions to you are, “How aware is your COO of his leadership style and its consequences?” And, “Is your COO willing to change his style to improve his relationship with this executive?”
If your COO lacks awareness of how his style impacts others, you might consider a program designed to help leaders gain insight into their leadership style and its consequences. Several programs offer this, and one that I am comfortable recommending is The Center for Creative Leadership.
Once he has been made aware of his leadership style and how it impacts others, will your COO be able to commit to the changes that you want him to make? This is where coaching can help. You can help your executive to create a goal that encompasses the changes you would like to see him make. The tension to close the gap between his current style and the desired leadership style needs to be strong enough to motivate him to change. If it is not and he holds on to his current style, you will be faced with a dilemma to remove the COO or continue the dysfunctional relationship you are trying to resolve.
In my experience, many executives have a deep-rooted need to control, and, while they may voice a desire to change, they will continue to control, to the detriment of their team members. Their control will stifle growth and initiative in others. If your COO is able to change, your company will benefit. If not, you will need to find a COO who can lead your company in a way that enhances the effectiveness of its key executives.