It clicked when I gave up being in control.
This is the first blog in a 3 blog series that explore my experience of losing or choosing to give up control in significant moments in my personal and professional life.
I was a manager, competent at doing my job, leading a group of professionals who were good at their jobs. I was the newcomer, hired to bring financial success to a failing operation. I wasn't getting much cooperation from those who had worked there for years, set in their ways, sure I was just aninexperienced short timer.
It all came to a head when I held a meeting of managers to discuss new procedures that I was putting in place to establish financial and time accountability. I had developed a software application to calculate cost and time investment so clients would receive an accurate and consistent estimate regardless of which manager was working with them.
After the meeting one of the managers asked me to take a walk to discuss the new protocols. She shared that the ideas were great, but the message conveyed was not. In her perspective I had managed to further alienate the group of professional managers. I asked her to give me some examples of how I had done that. She was very specific in pointing out words, inflections and body language that conveyed the message of being in control over the group. I really wanted to work with the group, so I was not getting the change in behavior or the outcomes I wanted. I thanked her for telling me and went home quite upset. I had a problem to overcome and didn't quite know what do do.
I did a little research and a lot of thinking about how to keep the message but change the delivery. I had an aha moment, when it clicked. I realized the managers and I wanted the same outcome, I just hadn't been able to give up control of how we got there. I decided to try out a few different things to see if changing how I approached things would improve my chances of getting what I wanted; cooperation from the managers to be time and income accountable to turn around the financial status of the operation.
My first experiment was with the second most senior manager who had asked for a meeting to get approval for a contract with a client. She sent me the contract draft before the meeting and I reviewed it to see if the protocols were followed. They were not. So I feared the meeting would become confrontational. One of the things I had researched was about how to create collaborative working relationships and one of the topics was "psycho-geography," which entails constructing an environment that supports the outcome you want.
My office was set up in traditional corporate style with my desk between the door and me; my chair behind the desk with my back to the wall, 2 guest chairs facing the desk. There was a small round table on which I had stacked books and files.
The first thing I did in preparing for the meeting was to clear off the small table and moving the guest chairs to each side of the table. I moved my desk to face the side wall so now my back was to open space toward the other side wall.
The morning of the meeting, I brought a small vase of fresh flowers for the small table. I was nervous and felt vulnerable in the new office arrangement. The old arrangement said "I am protecting myself, stay seperated, I'm the boss." The new arrangement said "I'm open and available for you, we are together." The arrangement allowed anyone coming to my office to sit in either of the two guest chairs with equal access to me without the desk as a barrier.
I reminded myself of what I wanted out of the meeting, cooperation. I recalled the conversation I had with the helpful manager. It wasn't what I said, it was how I said it. This had been a repeated experience in my various positions to date. I considered how to start the conversation to not repeat that pattern. I reflected on the years of experience the manager brought to the equation.
I decided that I would try to learn from her instead of controlling her. It brought with it the risk that I would fail in my attempt to get cooperation, and if I used my standard approach, I knew for sure I wouldn't get it.
In preparing for the meeting, I plugged contract information into the accountability application and calculated a new quote for our services based on that information. I noticed right away that she had not included the overhead expenses that had to be included in any quotes.
When she came to the office for the meeting, she hesitated before sitting, noting that I had rearranged the office. I briefly reviewed that the meeting was about getting my approval for the client contract. Then I asked her to explain how she arrived at the quote for our services. She shared her process with me and I asked if she had included the required overhead expenses in the quote. She said she had not, she had simply forgotten. I pulled up the application on my laptop and showed her how the quote changed when the overhead expenses were added. I agreed to approve the contract with those expenses added and thanked her for doing a great job on the other elements of the quote.
I then asked her if she would consider helping me fine tune the application so that she and others would find it more user friendly. She gave me a few ideas and thanked me for consulting her. We closed the meeting agreeing that it would be a good idea to meet with all the managers to review the application so that the people using it found it helpful.
I subsequently held that meeting in which I invited discussion of ideas for meeting goals and how we could work together to reach them. When we ended the meeting, I had a new sense of what we could collectively accomplish.
If the helpful manager had not had the courage to share her observations and concerns with me, if I had not given up control in the contract approval meeting, my pattern would have continued to yield the same result: resistance to change, animosity, and my ultimate failure to lead successfully.
Moral of the story: When faced with resistance, give up control and let the river lead you to your destination. Use your skills, knowledge and experience to guide you along the way.